Team Iron Butt – Norman & Michael Babcock
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Procrastination is a good thing, as long as you look at it from the right point of view. It’s an ideal way to condition oneself into thinking on ones toes in panic situations… albeit self-induced. If you think about the concept of procrastination in the context of driving on a racetrack, you realize that it applies in nearly every aspect. Late braking, late turn-in, and late apex are all standard practices on the track that are supposed to make good things happen, and they all imply waiting until the last minute to do something. Using that logic, one could argue that it might actually be a competitive advantage to apply the procrastination theory to every day life. That said, it’s no surprise that the final hours prior to departing for the 2003 Cannonball One Lap of America were scheduled with a heavy to-do list. I was in the middle of wrapping up final exams, and father Norm had his hands full working with Champagne Motorsports in efforts to get our MTM Hoppen Audi S4 back into shape for the 20th running of the One Lap. The decision to run this year was even relatively sudden… made less than 4 weeks earlier on the final day of the Open Track Challenge in Las Vegas, where we were sitting 3rd in our class, and had a lock on the AWD Cup. The primary reason we were even competing in the OTC was the fact that we both had made prior commitments that conflicted with the Cannonball. Fortunately, both of those commitments managed to dissolve… which resulted in the following chain of events:
Wednesday-Thursday (4-30 & 5-1) -- The Cleveland Connection
Since the geographical relationship between my father and I tends to be less than convenient (Colorado and Arizona respectively), simply making the rendezvous point is the first logistical challenge that faces us on one of these events. We had successfully negotiated this obstacle on the 2001 Cannonball by meeting in Cleveland… so there was no sense in deviating from what worked. I hopped a red-eye Wednesday night, and found my father sneaking a power-nap down in baggage claim, early the following morning. He’d spent the last few days towing the Audi from Colorado… stopping along the way to visit with friends and family. We had a 300 mile drive to the Lodge on the Greens motel in Painted Post, NY… a small town near Watkins Glen International Raceway, and the official One Lap of America headquarters. We arrived that afternoon, unloaded the Audi… and began to sort through the contents of the trailer to decide what we thought we should bring along. Though similar events, the Open Track Challenge and One Lap of America have a few key differences… one of which being the use of support vehicles, and the latter does not allow them. The S4 would be our home on wheels for the next week, so a carefully balanced mix of tools, spare parts, and clean underwear were loaded into its tail section.
Friday (5-2) -- Painted Post, NY -- Event Registration
We awoke to a steady drizzle of rain… normally a delight to an Audi pilot, but alas… today was only tech inspection. More and more competitors began to show up throughout the day, and the speculation as to who and what would be the pace setters in each class began to grow. The classing structure is fairly open, in so much as a team entered in say… an Audi S4… could mean anything from a bone stock 250hp unit, to a 500hp monster with a nitrous system and JATO bottles strapped to the deck lid. The S4 is placed in the Luxury Sedan class, (sedans and wagons over $35k) amidst other models from marques such as BMW, Mercedes, and Jaguar. Only Audi and BMW would be playing in the Luxury Sedan class this year however… with the BMW M5 of Roy Hopkins as the reigning class champion. In the Audi camp, we had the Baron Rene Von Richthofen in his 2000 S4, and Trevor Frank in a 1993 S4.
We knew Rene from previous events, and caught up with him and his co-driver John Wyllie early that morning. He was introducing his newfound partner to the glory and mystique of the Cannonball… by having him apply the event sponsor decals to the car in the pouring rain. All this while Rene supervised the entire process from the shelter of his motel room doorway… barking out commands to John in a thick, German accent. "Nooo… not zat one dare, poot zee ozer one dare! Oh look… eet’s cwooked!" Rene really is a nice guy… but he does require a certain amount of effort, understanding, and a demented sense of humor. No co-driver has ever returned for a second round with the Baron.
Later that afternoon, the skies finally cleared up. We were able to complete the prep-work on our car, and sailed through tech inspection without incident. We got back together with Rene and John, and went into town for dinner. The four of us had a great time BS’ing over a few drinks and good food, and we came to know John and Rene as good friends. All in all, a stellar evening.
Saturday (5-3) -- Watkins Glen International Raceway -- Watkins Glen, NY
No rain this morning… but it was windy and cold, and the skies were threatening. We made the short 35 mile hop over to Watkins Glen about 7am to find the garages open… and filling up fast. We managed to grab one of the last spots, and unloaded the car. Pops would be handling the driving today, as he’s had much more seat time on this particular circuit.
After setting the tire pressure and a few minor adjustments on the Shade Tree PDA… I began to check out the competition. There was a Dinan turbocharged BMW 540 that looked like it could be tough, an older M5, and of course the Hopkins M5 that dominated the class last year. The Baron could also be a problem, however the S4 of Trevor and Christopher Frank had not shown up yet.
Pops took his place on the grid, and the waiting began. The event officials sent the first run group out on the track, shortly before 9am… and the fastest of the fast go first. Normally, the cars are sent out from pit lane, in groups of seven, at about fifteen second intervals. That group of cars takes one practice lap, and comes to a stop in single file at the start/finish line. Each car in the group then takes a green flag standing start (approx. 15 seconds apart), and runs as fast as they dare until they take the checkered flag… (usually 3 to 4 laps). Once the checkers fly, a cool down lap followed by pit lane exit… and the whole thing starts all over again.
Roy Hopkins had earned a spot in one of the first run groups with his performance last year… and we both watched in horror as he piloted his M5 around the track... passing two Corvette Z06's inside of three laps. That HAS GOT to be difficult for a Corvette driver to swallow! We both agreed that we were going to keep our cool, aim for 2nd place, and see if attrition was on our side. Many things can happen on the Cannonball… and if there was a Corvette Lynch Mob out there somewhere… we had a pretty good idea as to who they’d be looking for. Dad turned in a couple of solid runs on the day to give us 2nd place in class, and 25th overall… right where we hoped we'd be.
Putting the procrastination theory to the ultimate test, Trevor and Christopher Frank finally showed up mid-morning in their 1993 S4. They’d drove the car in from California, slapped on event sponsor decals right over the top of the dead bugs, and passed tech inspection in time to make their first run. Rene took 3rd in Luxury Sedan in the morning, and Trevor took 3rd in the afternoon.
Sunday (5-4) -- Indianapolis Raceway Park -- Indianapolis, IN
We rolled into IRP feeling pretty good. The weather was nice and cool, and we were able to clock about 3 hours of sleep the night before… and a shower. I was to drive today, so my stomach was in knots. Rene was kind enough to point out all the concrete barriers around the course... "Looook et all zees cement volls…", he said. "You muzt dwive vewy zlowly zo you do not heet zem untz veck yo fahzers cah…". The man has no shame. I took my spot on the grid and put down what felt to be a fairly clean set of laps. Translated: I deed not veck zee cah…!
At lunch, the times were posted for the first of the two sessions for the day. Much to our surprise, we finished 10th overall... and 1st in class... beating out the M5 by a little over a second. Suddenly, the one-day-old plan of playing it smart and letting victory come to us had swung too far over to the conservative side. We might just have a good battle on our hands!
On the second session, I was only able to improve by 3 seconds total, and dropped to 12th overall. The M5 trimmed 8 seconds and grabbed 10th… sort of brought us back into the earth’s atmosphere, but there was a new attitude in the Audi camp. On to Road America!
Monday (5-5) – Road America -- Elkhart Lake, WI
It had rained most of night on the way up to Elkhart Lake, and showed no signs of letting up the following morning. We probably should have been doing back flips over the weather conditions, but the overwhelming reality of the situation left us both a bit apprehensive. Road America is very long, very fast, and was completely foreign to us both. That, coupled with the rainy conditions and the thick layer of pea-soup fog that blanketed the last half of the front straight was more than a little unnerving… AWD or not.
That morning at the drivers meeting, the Cannonball officials announced a few changes to the normal format, due to the weather conditions. Rather than run one three lap session in the morning, and one in the afternoon… they would put all the cars on the track at once, and run a four lap familiarization session behind the pace car. Then we’d run a four lap competitive session to finish the day. That would get us on the road sooner… a good thing, considering the 900 mile journey that lay ahead of us that evening. The next concern was that of the "kink"… a very fast, very dangerous turn at the back of the course. The officials decided to mark a section just before the kink, and have each car do a stop-n-go on every lap. The format changes made in the name of safety didn’t seem to bother anyone, and there were wound up being no casualties at the kink. Some of the other corners on the racetrack however, were not so forgiving.
Dad had the driving duties today, and I was thankful for that. Taking shelter near turn 6, I watched several big horsepower cars as they tip-toed around the circuit. Pops turned in an epic performance, taking 11th overall and 1st in class. The Baron also ran a quick set of laps… picking up 14th overall and 2nd in class. Only one other car in the Luxury Sedan class managed to even complete the session… and it wasn’t the Hopkins M5. He ended up buried in the kitty litter on his final lap… resulting in a DNF for him, and the class lead for us.
Tuesday (5-6) – Hallet Motor Racing Circuit / Tulsa Speedway -- Tulsa, OK
We hit Tulsa, OK at around 3:30am, and we figured we’d have more sleep time if we just went directly to the track and slept in the car. A couple hours later, we woke to the business end of a movie camera peering through the windshield. There was a film crew following the One Lap competitors all over the map, gathering documentary footage for an upcoming piece on TNN. I guess we were chosen to do the drool and snore scene… super!
Today would be a warm one… we were definitely not in Wisconsin anymore. The folks in charge of the track were very friendly however… they even mowed a sign in the weeds that said "WELCOME ONE LAPPERS". The course turned out to be a treat as well, with some nice elevation changes and plenty of run-off room in most areas. As I’ve alluded previously, I’m not big on concrete barriers. We snatched 10th overall in the morning session, but the M5 finished 9th overall by less than a second. By the afternoon session, the track was getting greasy from the heat. The Quattro is absolute magic in those conditions… we chalked up an 8th place finish, and stuck one more pin into our Bavarian voodoo doll.
The final event of the day took place at Tulsa Speedway… a 3/8 mile dirt oval about 45 minutes from Hallet. Thanks to this particular venue, there’s a handful of people in this country that can honestly say that they’ve seen a Lamborghini Diablo, letting it all hang out on a dirt track. The point spread between 1st and 2nd in Luxury Sedan grew even larger, after Roy looped his M5 in turns 3 and 4. That left us with some breathing room, and neither of us had ever been on a dirt oval. We decided not to push it, and managed to take 2nd in class. Rene turned out to be a regular dirt track demon in his S4, topping the Luxury Sedan class, and taking 10th overall.
Wednesday (5-7) – Memphis Motorsports Park -- Memphis, TN
Days like today are usually scheduled to happen on Mondays. Sometimes however, there’s a disturbance in "the force", or the planets aren’t aligned quite right… and you’re handed a Monday on a Wednesday. The brutality started early, as the sleep deprivation had caught up to us both at the same time… about an hour shy of Memphis. A brief power-nap along the side of the road granted us enough life to hammer out the last few miles, but it wasn’t pretty.
We hit the motel sheets around 1am. Fifteen minutes later… the telephone exploded with a wake-up call that even Elvis must have heard. The clock was sporting a big "5:45" on it’s face... how does that happen? I opened the curtains to reveal a very soggy situation outside. Pops had run the Memphis course before… so he was elected the driving duties for the day. "Aw, shit…" he muttered, as he caught a glimpse out the window. We had a fairly comfortable lead, and our strategy had become much more concentrated on defending it. In addition, the rain makes for a miserable day in the pits… so neither of us was terribly thrilled. We arrived at the track to find there was no shelter from the downpour. As luck would have it, the rain stopped shortly after we unloaded. Then the sun came out with a vengeance and began to suck all the moisture from the ground. It was like… raining backwards!
The car had developed a problem with the shifter at Hallet. I had tried to play with the alignment adjusters, but didn’t have much luck. We’d been logging "random misfire" fault codes since Road America, but they hadn’t been noticeable on the road or the track… until today. The car wasn’t happy, the heat and humidity were ridiculous, and the track and its facilities weren’t very impressive. We soldiered through the day and managed to finish reasonably well, all things considered. Suffice to say, neither of us had any fond memories of Memphis. Sorry Elvis.
Thursday (5-8) – Carolina Motorsports Park -- Kershaw, SC
Mike Hoppen called us on the road about an hour out of Memphis to see how things were going. We told him of our woes… and he offered up some adjustment tips that we could apply with the PDA while we drove. During a fuel stop, I spent a little more time adjusting the shifter. It was still finicky going into 1st, 2nd, and reverse… but the appropriate ritual of shaking and wobbling would finally land it home. There were no rooms to be had when we finally hit Kershaw, SC… so we motored on over to the track and zonked out in the car.
We woke up later that morning to see what a nice little camping spot we had. I guess it pays to get to the track early. We unloaded, gassed up, set the tire pressure, and crossed our fingers. On the morning session, we managed to take 12th while the M5 took 10th. But the afternoon heat did its number on the track and turned the advantage our way. We took 9th in the second session to the M5’s 11th. The car seemed to be holding up okay. It sputtered a bit after each session, but worked beautifully on the track. Our lead in Luxury Sedan looked to be pretty safe… but we were sitting 12th overall… and were hoping to break the top ten. We had one more day to make it happen.
Unfortunately, the Audi S4 of Trevor and Christopher Frank had to retire from the event after the first session due to a mechanical failure. They had been running very strong, and pulled 6th in class despite missing the last day.
Friday (5-9) – BeaveRun -- Koppel, PA
It was about 2am, the car was missing badly again, we were both tired and stinky, and I must have missed the exit we needed to get us off I-79, and onto I-76 at least four times. We finally arrived at a motel, showered several states worth of mung off the anatomy, and slept in actual beds… if only for a few hours. Later that morning, we awoke to more rain… oh joy!
BeaveRun is a new facility located just a few miles north of Pittsburgh, PA. When we got to the track, we learned that the truck with the racing fuel had arrived… but they’d forgotten to bring the pump. We decided to just run 93 octane, and leave the car on the street settings. The schedule for the day was to run two sessions on the go-kart track, and one on the road course. We then had to make it back to Painted Post, NY by 10pm that evening for the official "finish".
The rain finally let up later in the morning. We managed to be the fastest Luxury Sedan on all three sessions, and were now faced with the longest 300 miles of the week. Larry Koerner from Champagne Motorsports called to tell us that we’d broken into the top ten overall, and confirmed our class win… assuming we could make it back to Painted Post, NY. Dad was fairly optimistic… or at least he pretended to be. I was an absolute wreck… the cars misfiring just kept getting progressively worse with each mile. By the time we rolled into the motel parking lot… it sounded like an asthmatic V-twin. It did however, get us to the finish… and even managed to limp into the trailer under its own power.
That evening, we enjoyed a celebratory meal with Rene and John. They managed to bring their S4 home albeit just off the class podium in 4th place. Just finishing an event like One Lap is a victory in itself… but no matter how you do, finish or not… when it’s all over, you’re left with one thought:
Cumulative Overall Points as
of - Sat May 10 01:08:07 2003
Results sorted by position
Pos Car # Vehicle Class Points
MTI Z-07 SSGT1
Ronald Adee, John Myrick
2 4 Chevy Corvette Z06 SSGT1 6525
John Boos, Ronald Marks
3 1 Dodge Viper SSGT1 6515
David Zelkowski, Brian Smith
4 3 RUF RGT SSGT1 6415
Gary Church, Paul Gerrard
5 8 Porsche 996 Twin Turbo SSGT1 6380
Mark DaVia, Chuck Veth
5 Toyota Supra
Andi Baritchi, Clint Pohler
7 20 CHEVROLET CORVETTE ZR1 SSGT1 5665
Scott Ahlgrim, Steve Ahlgrim
8 52 Dodge SRT-4 MidPri Sed 5595
Cory O`Brien, Erich Heuschele
9 10 Lamborghini Diablo SSGT1 5545
Karl H. Troy, Mike Appleby
10 50 Audi S-4 Luxury Sed 5315
Norman Babcock, Michael Babcock
11 34 Ford
Probe GT SSGT2
Greg Hagopian, Stacey Bertran
12 63 Subaru WRX Wagon MidPri Sed 5200
Luke Russell, Jeremy Snyder
13 43 Nissan 350Z SSGT2 5180
Carter Thompson, Jeremy Sweeney
14 73 Porsche 911 Vint For 5080
Glen Clarke, Louis Frlan III
15 6 Dodge Viper GTS SSGT1 5040
Alan Modzelewski, Tom Atherton
16 19 Mitsubishi
Evolution MidPri Sed
frank jordan, Jon Krolewicz, Brian Dowling
17 13 Ford Thunderbird MidPri Sed 4915
Ted Lyons, Mike Hurst
18 55 Subaru WRX MidPri Sed 4905
Tom Hoppe, Steven Rankins
19 14 BMW M5 Luxury Sed 4895
Roy Hopkins, Nancy Becker
20 72 BMW Bavaria Vint For 4830
Bill Arnold, Tamara Hull
21 28 Porsche
911 TT SSGT1
Alan Tackman, Michael Curcio
22 7 Chevrolet Corvette Z06 SSGT1 4795
Rodney Sizemore, Rick Sizemore
23 23 BMW M Coupe SSGT1 4795
Ryan Catucci, Lawrence Leff
24 60 Subaru WRX MidPri Sed 4725
Stu Sacks MD, David High, DPM, Pearce Sloan, DPM
25 56 Lexus IS300 MidPri Sed 4495
Mark Love, Reg Riemer
26 59 Mitsubishi
Evolution 8 MidPri Sed
Mitch Farner, Ryan Farner
27 11 Chevrolet Corvette Z06 SSGT1 4390
George Bruggenthies, Mary Lou Haen, David Dahlin
28 24 BMW M3 SSGT1 4355
Greg Read, Edward Hull
29 25 Pontiac Firebird SSGT2 4350
Dan Corcoran, Kyle Corcoran
30 38 Mitsubishi Eclipse GSX SSGT2 4160
Todd Brown, Fred Espinel
31 67 Chevrolet
Camaro Z28 Vint Amer
MICHAEL HICKMAN, thomas bertino
32 39 Pontiac Firebird SSGT2 4020
Scott Breneman, David A. Groff, Jr.
33 71 Datsun 280Z Vint For 3985
Bob Murray, Sheree Murray
34 45 BMW 540i Luxury Sed 3950
Steve Stubbs, Jason Marks
35 15 Porsche Cayenne Turbo S U V 3945
Tony Swan, Mary Seelhorst
36 37 Chevrolet
Dynotech Engine SSGT2
Mark Joppru, John McElhinny
37 51 Audi S-4 Luxury Sed 3865
Rene Richthofen, John W. Wyllie IV
38 53 Volkswagan GTI VR6 MidPri Sed 3855
Michael Potter, Raffi Kazanjian, Paul Grimes
39 68 porsche 930 Vint For 3835
David Goodman, Keith Ibarguen
40 26 Chevrolet Corvette SSGT1 3790
Jeremy Herzberg, Eric Hulshart
41 12 Cheverolet
Mallett Corvett SSGT1
JR Amantea, Lance Mallett
42 27 BMW M Coupe SSGT1 3640
Neil Simon, Woody Hair
43 62 Subaru WRX MidPri Sed 3515
Jay Holeman, Dave Crockett
44 77 Saturn SC1 Econo Car 3425
Jamin Cummings, Dale Seeley
45 17 Chev Corvette WINNERS CIRCLE SSGT1 3275
Reg Noble, Victor Regalado
46 57 Volkswagan
MidPri Sed 3040
Yarrow Thorne, Rudy Rouhana
47 64 Mini Cooper S Retro 2990
Mark Goughnour, Howard Solotroff
48 78 Volkswagen Jetta 2.0L Econo Car 2865
Chris Colucci, Jordan Yakiwchuk, Dan Roncadin
49 70 Datsun 280Z Vint For 2815
Matt Hubbard, Gwen Hubbard
50 65 Ford Mustang Vint Amer 2740
George Batejan, Steve Smotrich
51 33 Audi
Julie Melbin, dan latham
52 41 BMW M3 SSGT2 2690
Gregg Evans, Russell Norton MD
53 16 Porsche Carrera SSGT1 2660
Brian Dooley, Carlton Joyce
54 74 Porsche 911C Vint For 2530
David Carr, Mark LeRocque
55 30 BMW M Coupe SSGT1 2470
Jim Rzegocki, Francis Rzegocki
56 35 Pontiac
Firebird Formul SSGT2
Chris Boncimino, Philip Peszat
57 82 Chevy Blazer S U V 2440
Glen Dodd, Charles Lovelady, Michael Star
58 75 ford festiva Econo Car 2410
Jack Ireton-Hewitt, Robert Blakemore, Brad Czerkies
59 21 BMW M Coupe SSGT1 2265
Carl Stringer, Peter Stringer
60 22 Porsche 964 Carrera Cup SSGT1 2265
robert lynch, Matt Van Bogart
61 54 BMW
MidPri Sed 2215
Victor Hall, Alex May
62 9 Chevrolet Corvette SSGT1 2170
Gino Burelli, Bruce Hayne
63 31 Subaru WRX MidPri Sed 2015
Bill Ellsworth, David Ellsworth
64 94 GMC Envoy S U V 2005
Fay Teal, C. David Teal, Ronald Pizor
65 79 Chevrolet Citation X-11 Econo Car 1935
Jeff LaVoy, John Oliver
66 76 Honda
Civic Si Econo Car
Mike Roberts, Scott Faught
67 48 BMW 732i Luxury Sed 1780
Bob Wickline, Michael Howell
68 40 Acura Integra GSR SSGT2 1765
Matthew Zekauskas, Pete Zekauskas
69 93 Honda Civic Hybrid Alt Fuel 1640
Edward Olkkola, Brian Healy
70 44 Ford Mustang SSGT2 1515
Daniel Hannah, Joe LeRocque
71 66 Chevy
Caprice MidPri Sed
Michael Demers, Richard Wells, Jon Martin
72 80 Ford Focus Econo Car 1345
Robert Hoover MD, William Hoover
73 61 Chevrolet Caprice MidPri Sed 1250
William Porter, Marie Porter
74 29 Porsche Boxster SSGT1 1185
Sanjay Hiranandani, David Koretz
75 47 Audi S4 Luxury Sed 1115
Trevor Frank, Christopher Frank
76 81 Dodge
S U V
Jay Tucker, Phil Berg
77 36 Porsche Boxster SSGT1 825
Linda Cheatham, Elaine Kent
78 49 BMW E28 M5 Luxury Sed 800
Roy Wicklund, Eric Heinrich
79 32 Volvo 740 Sedan MidPri Sed 615
William Cook, Jon Dega, Richard Spicer
80 46 BMW 540i Luxury Sed 340
Jerry Churchill, Bill Evans, Jr., Rick Lee
81 42 Chevy
Bryan ODay, Chris Mackenna
82 69 Chevelot Impala SS MidPri Sed 0
Howard LaFever, Mark Grzella, David Campbell
83 18 Porsche 996 Turbo SSGT1 -50
Leith Wain, Adam Schneider
84 58 BMW 316I MidPri Sed -100