Punted at Watkins

“Noo0, you idiot” I groaned as the Corvette bashed into Peyote’s left rear corner, pivoting the car sideways onto it’s massive bumper. I slid along sideways at sixty MPH and I stared up the hood five inches from my elbow. The big car was pushing me towards the tire wall. I had just enough time to think “you jerk”, and then I hit the wall. Peyote’s right front wheel smashed into the rubber, aluminum crumpled and I could actually see the wheel move backward as the suspension mounts bent. I knew the All Aluminum Tour was over.

Rewind.

SVRA’s Zippo U.S. Vintage Grand Prix is a big event at a big track–Watkins Glen. Tony Garmey says Watkins separates the sheep from the goats. I’m not exactly sure what that means–Kiwis talk like that–but I get the drift. Diane and I left Limerock Monday night and got to Watkins Glen on Wednesday, only to discover they wouldn’t let us in until Thursday morning. We used my iPhone to find a nearby campgrounds and found one near Bath, NY, which turned out not to be as close to Watkins Glen as it looked. Once we dumped the trailer we spent the afternoon driving around Keuka Lake and had an excellent dinner at the Esperanza Mansion, a remarkable place overlooking the Lake.

We got back to the campground after dark, and as I was backing the truck close to the hitch my phone went off, distracting me for a second. Crunch! I gave the new electric jack a bought a few weeks ago a good whack. I made temporary repairs the next morning and made the hour long journey to the track. We set up in a good area with electricity and water, and I tried to repair the jack. After a lot of fiddling I gave up and used the iPhone to find the nearest RV parts store. You guessed it–Bath, NY.

Driving back from Bath the second time in one day we passed a KOA campgrounds about half a mile from Watkins Glen. Perhaps Google Maps isn’t quite ready to replace the yellow pages.

On the plus side we had a nice lunch in a tavern in Hammondsport and got to see this great Curtis seaplane being launched. Hammondsport is where the Curtis museum is, and it’s one of the cradles of aviation. Not much else there but some beautiful old buildings and a nice lake. I guess that’s quite a lot when I think about it.

Curtis Seaplane

Curtis Floating

I got to help launch this thing–only because I was the tallest guy on the dock and could catch the wing when the plane got blown around. The guys launching it were pretty casual about the whole thing–lots of crunching noises when they started pushing it off the cradle that would have given me a heart attack if it were mine. I don’t know if there was any damage. This plane must have taken a huge amount of effort to restore. The pictures don’t do it justice. I’ll put the rest in the gallery I’m building that will hold all the pictures from the trip.

Lots of Friends of Triumph pals showed up at the track–some racing, some spectating. We’ve really appreciated belonging to the FOT on this trip: We have friends everywhere. In the trailer next to us was Steve Groh–a FOTer and fairly new Triumph Spitfire racer. Down the pit road a few spots was Henry Frye–always a pleasant guy to have around, and his wife Helen immediately bonded with Diane. Bill Dentinger and Bob Wismer were pitted far away from us though I saw them both at the drivers meeting. They were having clutch problems. I rode my bike around looking for them to offer help, but couldn’t find them. I ran into Cornell Babcock doing tech. I don’t know of any direct family connection, but we both have the same nose, we both race LBCs, both of us love TR3’s, and we both think it’s important that our trailer has three axles. How much of all this stuff that makes us up is learned and how much is hardwired into our genes? Scary.

Cornell was driving his meticulously prepped TR3. Rich Rock brought us some sweet corn and a huge delicious tomato. Our Philly FOT buddies Ed and Bruce showed up–they’ve been to at least five of the twelve races we completed on the All Aluminum tour. What a great bunch of folks. Please forgive me if I forgot to mention your name–it was a long and eventful weekend. And of course my memory sucks.

Thursday I got on the track for a timed practice and a qualifier. I was running in Group Four with a lot of big iron–Listers, a very fast Chapparal, a blistering fast and very well driven Lotus 11 Le Mans, various other sports racers, some corvettes, and inexplicably, a cluster of MGA’s and Big Healys. My times were okay–2:29 the first time on track, 2:22 the second. I figured I could get down to 2:21 (as I did the first time I was at Watkins Glen for the HSR event in early summer) and perhaps even to 2:20. My times were putting me in the front of the pack–third if the relative times held up. Watkins Glen is a horsepower track but Peyote makes up time in some of the corner combinations and I can carry a lot more speed than the big cars do coming onto the straights. For example, from the exit of turn one to the “bus stop” chicane Peyote is flat out in fourth, threading a very precise needle with not even a lift. Most of the big cars brake for at least two of the three turns between, especially the scary bridge turns with their big steel rails and no runoff. I noticed the Lotus 11 wasn’t braking either, though his light weight gave him more horsepower parity.

Thursday night we did a barbeque in our pits and invited everyone hanging around. Lots of roasted sweet corn, a big platter of fat slices of local homegrown tomatoes (“only two things that money can’t buy, true love and home grown tomatoes”) with basil, olive oil and balsamic vinegar (Diane said the fresh Mozzarella I bought a week ago was spoiled-I’d have tried it) and some chicken. People hardly touched the chicken–they filled up on corn and tomatoes. I think it would be easy to be a vegetarian in the summer.

On Friday morning my brother Dave was in the paddock when I climbed out of Nero at 6:00. He’d gotten to the track about four ayem. He had enough fun at Limerock to make him want to take the long drive from Boston to Watkins Glen. I think he’s got the bug pretty bad. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him in a vintage car sometime soon. I should probably tell him how much all this stuff really costs. It ain’t the car, buddy, it’s everything else. And the cars aren’t cheap.

Dave and I went to breakfast at Tobe’s in Watkins Glen, leaving Diane to catch up on her sleep. Friday I was only on the track once, but the times counted towards qualifying. I pushed hard and did 2.23. The front end was pushing pretty hard. Time to look for new tires. I also checked the camber and found the left side had about a degree too much. I switched to Dunlops for Limerock and set the camber to zero, so I probably miscounted when I switched back. The big horsepower cars were giving me fits–they’d eat me up in the straights and then tiptoe through the turns. sometimes it felt like we were barely moving. There’s a few good places to pass, but most of them lead to chutes where I’d just get re-passed on horsepower anyway.

Friday evening they do a re-enactment of racing on the old Watkins Glen road course. There were more than 500 cars in the event and they only take 150. I wrote an eloquent plea for Peyote’s inclusion that turned out to be unnecessary–they had less than 150 cars apply.

Diane wanted to go, but Peyote has no passenger seat. I tried to make a case for fabricating something on top of the fuel cell, but the tech guy just kept saying “so you’re telling me you want your passenger to sit on the fuel cell?!?” Fortunately Henry Frye had an empty seat in his car since Helen didn’t want to go. Diane snapped up the opportunity and went to buy appropriate accessories–goggles and a leather helmet. Cute.

Diane and Henry

Diane and Henry in his TR4

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Peyote looks kind of little. We had a police escort from the track to downtown, then we parked the cars on both sides of the main street. After an hour or so of opportunity for the crowd to look over the cars (and for me to grab a brat–a damned good one), we did two laps around the track with a police escort and then headed right back to the track. Slow in some spots, but fast enough to get the adrenaline going in others. The guys that did this fifty years ago with minimal safety equipment had enormous courage–or little imagination.

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There were 50 thousand people on the street. The sidewalks were packed. Along the route there were people at every place that might have a little drama. One group had a table set with white tablecloth, nice wine glasses (looked like a Cabernet) and a nice cheese and fruit tray (at least as far as I could tell from my 50 MPH vantage point).

I made the mistake of wearing shorts–there’s a lot of heat coming up the footwell of this little car. I was roasted by the time I got back to the track.

Saturday we had a warmup in the morning and a qualifying race in the afternoon. I got two new Hoosier Speedsters for the front (two was all that Woodman had left), scrubbed them in in the morning session and felt an immediate improvement in the handling. In the afternoon we had a qualifying race. I was gridded third behind the Chapparal and the Lotus 11, with a wad of Listers, Devin SS’s, and Corvettes behind. When the pace car turned onto the straight the pace was glacial. I really needed to shift to first, but didn’t dare because I’d run the risk of getting smacked when I had to shift right away. The starter waved a very early green and we were off. A lot of cars passed me as I tried to accelerate, but I went to the outside going into turn one and passed all but John Harden’s Lister and a white Corvette. The Chapparal and the Lotus were wailing away out of reach. I settled down to try to pass the two big cars that had gotten by me.

Of course it was nearly impossible. I was bottled up behind them in the turns, going painfully slow, and then they’d pull ten car lengths on me in the straight and I’d have to run up on them again. It’s hard for a momentum car like Peyote to get daylight on a point-and-shoot horsepower car at a track like Watkins Glen. Every corner complex is followed by either a long chute or a straight.

I kept working on them, but I was somewhat resigned to finishing behind them since they were bunched together and much too wide to pass as a pair. But since they were battling each other they were slowing more than usual in the corners, and the Corvette was sliding around a lot. Behind us was a Lister and Devin that we had pulled a good lead on, but they started catching up. I don’t think we were turning anything better than 2:25, maybe even slower. I knew if the cars behind us got within five car lengths that they’d pass me on the straight.

On the last lap the cars behind were still closing, but I reckoned I had enough lead to hold position. As we entered the long carousel-like turn after the chicane, John’s Lister pulled a good lead on the Corvette, and the Corvette driver blew the apex by at least five feet, going very wide. I kept my speed up, tucked inside him and passed. As we entered turn the left-hander they call the chute I turned in for the apex and saw the Corvette coming straight at me. He smashed into Peyote’s left rear corner and the car immediately pivoted onto the front of his car. I watched his big ass ’57 corvette with the hood at my elbow push me through the corner sideways until I crashed into the tire wall, crunching the right front corner.

I sat stunned for a moment, then got out of the car, and walked behind the wall, pulling off my helmet and gloves. When the driver of the Corvette came behind the wall I said “what the f@*k was that about”. He said “that’s what I want to know.” I stared at him and started to reply but the corner worker stepped between us and started asking me questions. Either the corner worker was looking the wrong way and didn’t see the wreck, or he saw murder in my eye and was defusing the situation. Either way I realized I’d gain nothing by talking to the guy–anyone that can hit a car in the rear end and then pretend it wasn’t his fault isn’t anyone I need to talk to.

Not only did he wreck my car, he could have killed me, all because he didn’t want to get passed, pure and simple, and tried to bully his way through a hole that wasn’t there. A particularly stupid move since there’s no way I could have held him off in the uphill straight after the boot.

They took me in an ambulance to the medical center and checked me out thoroughly–I hit the wall hard. On the way to medical I saw Diane walking fast towards an official, looking pretty frantic. I tried to get the EMT to stop so I could reassure her, but they said they needed to get me to the med center. I checked out fine and they released me once my blood pressure came down. I caught up with Diane close to the paddock. She started crying when she saw me, but calmed down pretty quickly.

The tow truck was pulling out as we walked to the paddock. Peyote had already been unloaded. The car looked so forlorn I got a lump in my throat. Twelve events this summer, on tracks we’d never been on, racing with people we mostly didn’t know. Never a scratch, and the little car performed so gallantly against overwhelming competition. Now it was over because of ruthless, reckless, talentless driving.

I have no problem forgiving errors in judgement, I make too many of them to be stif necked. But I’ve got this silly honor and integrity hangup. The guy never apologized, didn’t even have the guts to say something noncommital like “sorry your car got damaged” or “glad you weren’t hurt”. Instead he did his best to make the stewards believe it was my fault. He knows he’s lying, and I know he’s lying. Of course by now he’s lying to himself too.

I’ve been on the guilty side of an incident like this about ten years ago, and though it was a lot less clearcut than this incident (I hit a Lotus 7 in the right front fender of his car when I couldn’t brake in time as he turned into a chicane on the start), I stepped up and apologized. How could anyone not? Even paid for the guy’s damage though I think it’s wrong to do that and I’d never look for it–we all assume the risk of damage or injury when we choose to race.

I’ll fix my own car.

The stewards didn’t “decide” on their action, which I take to mean they wanted everyone cleared out before they decide to do nothing. They were already making noises about “mitigating aspects” when I talked to them, despite clear evidence like a big punt mark in the back of my car, the fact that my car got pushed a couple of hundred feet down the track on the front of his car (kind of hard to get there if you’re side by side), a video from Doug Karon’s Devin, and lots of people that saw the incident. Of course I know “witnesses” see what they want to see and there’s always another story, but this one is pretty clearcut. I assume politics will take the forefront.

They were even talking about my duties as the passing driver and whether or not I had completed the pass before I turned in. Excuse me? I get hit in the back end hard enough to push my subframe into my tire and we’re talking about my pass? My pass was over in the previous corner, the Corvette was the overtaking driver. End of story.

peyote-butt.jpg

David surveys the damage.

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“Did you complete your pass”? Is there some other way to get in front?

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free bumper ride

right-front.jpg

bent frame on the right front from hitting the wall

If I did such a bonehead thing I’d expect to get suspended, but this guy has run with SVRA for years and I’m just a guy from Oregon that they may never see again. They’re the ones that will have to race with him, I certainly wouldn’t set a wheel on a track with him again.

A lot of folks dropped by to sympathize. It started raining like heck and I couldn’t get Peyote into the trailer until I cleared it out. Made me feel bad looking at it sitting in the rain, all crushed up, but I decided to wait until the next morning to load up. Burt Levy came over to cheer me up. He told me he had known the guy for years and he was a stand up guy. I told him you couldn’t prove that by me and opened a bottle of nice provencal Rose’. We sat and shot the shit, talked racing and the tracks I’d been to on the tour. The bottle magically emptied, and so did another. I wound up going to dinner with Diane, my brother David, Henry Frye and Helen. The food tasted like sawdust. I don’t think it had much to do with the cook.

It rained like hell all night. I couldn’t sleep much–too worked up. David got wet in his tent that attaches to his Aztek (AZTEK!). We were a pretty sorry sight the next morning. took Dave to Tobe’s again, then I got Peyote loaded up, packed everything, and we hit the road, headed home. It was raining hard when we left. Thunder and lightning–old testament stuff.

I’m not particularly upset about missing the last two races. I’m not even that upset about Peyote–I can fix it, and I will. What I’m really chaffed about is the simple lack of honor and integrity. I expect it, from myself, from other dirvers, and from any organization that claims to have rules. Even the aincient greeks understood that for an organization to survive it’s rules had to be enforced without regard for status. (yes, Kas, I’m listening to the Greek civilization CDs on the way back home). When people weasel around and refuse to take responsibility for their actions, they just make me want to puke.

Anyway, the racing part of the tour is over. I’m making my way back across the country to lick my wounds in Portland. we’ll do a little sightseeing on the way back and stop in Geneseo to pick up my motor from Uncle Jack. I’ll let you know what I see on the way.

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16 thoughts on “Punted at Watkins”

  1. Okay, I promised something in the last comment, so here is my take.
    It’s sort of surreal that Diane and I would both be somewhere in the boot section of Watkins Glen, although at opposite ends of the straight, and witness Bill’s “connection” with the Corvette. Like any accident I have been part of…..this one was also in slow motion.
    I had convinced a crowd of people camping behind where I stood to watch that “little silver car” as he fought against all those big, expensive, high horsepower cars, and taught them a lesson. (A little brothers ego is a tough thing to contain sometimes)
    They all agreed with me that there was something special going on…..although the Chapparal and the Lotus were stretching along lead with every lap, and when Peyote got passed at the end of the first “boot” straight, it looked to be a longshot at finishing on the podium. Although as said, Bill was snapping at the larger cars backends at the corners, and actually pulled alongside just before being out horsepowered along the long uphill straight leading to the heel of the boot. So I and the entire section watched and waited for this race to come back around where we could see them again. To my surprise Bill appeared from behind the trees first. I yelled “he got him”, just in time to see a slow pirouette to the left begin as the Corvette pushed to the inside to pass. From the distance I was at, I couldn’t tell if Peyote had spun in front of the Vette, or had been NASCAR punted on the rear end corner. But my heart stopped when I saw the Corvette push Bill and Peyote along sideways headed for the tire covered guardrail. Dirt flew, as did fiberglass and smoke. Peyote was lost to sight behind the tires and the guardrail, but the Corvette rolled forward about 30 feet and came to a stop.
    Ever try to ride a mountain bike, a quarter of a mile, with a camera slung over your neck and shoulder, through a man made tunnel under a race track, up a slippery bumpy grass covered hill and down the other side, with visions of a possibly hurt older brother stuck in a crumbled racecar?

    I thought not!

    As I neared the accident, I was relieved to see Bill in his brilliant blue driving suit (thank goodness for brilliant blue) standing outside the track surface. I yelled to see how he was, but got a report on the racecar. “You ya jerk, how are you? Are you ok?”
    A thumbsup was all I needed, and got.
    My thoughts turned to Diane, not knowing she had seen what I did. I thought she would hear about the crash, but not know what was happening, I mounted said bike, and beat it towards our paddock. As I came up to her, I could only say “He’s okay”……But my heart was still pumping hard, and continued to do so as the flatbed delivered the crumpled Peyote back to the spot it had just left a few minutes ago. Bent sheet metal, and a bent frame rail…..I knew the tour was done.
    But Bill was okay, and soon, standing surveying the damage. So many offers of help, (it can be straightened) and encouragement, but Bill ended them all with a simple statement. “I’ve been living in this trailer for four months, I’m going home”
    So it should be….It was fantastic living a riding with you through these pages, and in these last couple weeks in person, but it’s time to go home. To take what is necessary, fix your car, and get back to living a more normal life.

    I got to meet Steve, and Henry, and Bert, and many others too. Racing this way makes everyone connected a sort of family….and it’s good.

    Thanks for the reminder about the expense, Brother. Someone said to me recently “Do you know how to make a small fortune car racing…….start with a large one.” Point taken………..and by the way Bill, could you have gotten a less flattering picture of me?

  2. Hi Bill, From Steve’s brother. Just wanted to say what a great website this is and loaded with great writing of your tour. You are the type of quality individual that one does not get to meet too many times in life so I hope that when you said that you won’t race against the Vette jockey again that it did not mean that we will not have the pleasure of your company at the Glen in the future. Hope your drive home is safe and hope to see you in the future. Bill

  3. What can I say but that I’m glad you’re OK.

    Shame about Peyote but my 1st thought on the car was that this is a good excuse to put some more of yourself into the history of this extraordinary car. I know you’ll do her proud. Don’t make her too pretty though.

    Probably a good thing I didn’t get to make this trip. I might have ended up in jail.

    I had to laugh David. Your comment reminds me of the day I was hit on my bike (my fault in this case) on Cambridge street. Dad and you just happened to be passing by and saw it happen and came flying across Union Square paying no attention to fact that there was other traffic. I thought the poor guy that hit me was going to choke when he saw you angrily bend the axle of my bike back to straight with your bare hands.

    One thing to be thankful for Bill is that putses like this seem to be few and far between in vintage. Lets hope this is the worse that he does to anyone. I’ve never been able to understand people that can’t say “I’m sorry I made a mistake”.

  4. On the plus side we had a nice lunch in a tavern in Hammondsport and got to see this great Curtis seaplane being launched. Hammondsport is where the Curtis museum is, and itís one of the cradles of aviation. Not much else there but some beautiful old buildings and a nice lake. I guess thatís quite a lot when I think about it.

    Was it the Park Inn? Hammondsport is the real Cradle of Aviation and there is a LOT MORE history

    No one has yet successfully flown a replica of the Wright Brothers. No one has failed to fly a replica of any of Glenn H Curtiss planes and he did all his in public, not in private.

  5. It’s always great fun to hang out with good people, and this past weekend at The Glen was a real treat for Helen and me. It is one thing to exchange emails with someone, it is another to spend time over food and drink and get to know people.

    I am very happy it worked out that I was able to take Diane on the Race Re-enactment. Her enthuisasm was fantastic, and only after the drive did I realize she really wanted to handle all the waiving so I would have both hands on the wheel!

    Good luck with Peyote, I am sure you will have your car back on track soon.

    Cheers

  6. Bill,

    Really sorry to see the tour end on this note. Sad pictures of Peyote. Jerks end up getting their own karma.

    The weather here in Portland is spectacular and if you get back soon enough Suzy and I have heirloom tomatoes to share from our garden.

    Arthur Conner and I are planning to go CSRG Charity Challenge at Infineon. Any chance you will get Peyote repaired in time?

    Love to both You and Diane. Enjoy the drive!

    Cameron

  7. I guess on the bright side you’ve got 3000 miles of road signs available at your disposal on the way back to Portland.

    And for separating sheep from goats, Garmey really worries me at times.

    Have a safe trip back and we’ll see you when we see you.

    Joe & Eva

  8. Bill,
    Ouch!

    I just received some very similar sad pictures of Dave Belden’s Lotus Mark IX from the recent Lime Rock after he tangled with an Allard.

    On our Aluminum front: our 1216cc Lotus Mark IX did well at Monterey Historics against a 1985cc Ferrari 500MD, and beat an Allard and a Jag or two in the PreHistorics. The Haggispeed had great fun at the Columbia River Classic until a rear suspension link butt-weld broke in 12 and I spun from the lead; I continued while they looked for the meatball but the other side broke in 12 the next lap. All four forward mounting points are torn out; the front shocks are toast; the diff is borrowed, and it overheats — but still a much smaller project than yours!

    Have a good drive home. We have a lot fewer tomatoes, but we would be happy share!

    Don & Gayle

  9. Bill –
    Glad you’re OK! Sorry to see the Peyote crunched by someone elses boneheaded driving, but the worst hurt would be no appology! Thanks for taking the risk of putting the car on track as intended and giving the rest of us the pleasure of watching you do it – here’s to more of it!
    Diedrich

  10. Hi Bill – sorry to hear your tin tour (excuse me-aluminum tour) ended so unfortunately. We missed you at the CRC this year although it went off pretty well in spite of your not being there-actually had a good party at the track Sunay night-great weather,mixed drinks at the bar,good music,kids dancing(and a few adults) on the grass-a fun time. We’d love to have you run the Fall Finale-I’m more than happy to have you drive my MGB in the production car group (I’m not racing this season because the DR says no while im on the blood thinners). Gary Silckox uxed it in the Historics when his clutch went out-says it easy to drive. Or maybe Robin Bee would offer up the TR3 if you want something a little more challenging-he’s got it up for sale but no takers yet. Seriously-think about it and let me know. Have a safe trip home. Safety Fast-Paul B

  11. As a big fan I missed ya at the CRC this year, but you’ve been getting famous in the vintage race magazines documenting your travels. Just read Kas K’s book and was proud to see your Triumph on a cactus being so highly acclaimed – not to mention the creativity of Nero! Can’t wait to read more of the adventures from your tour and sorry it came to an abrubt finish. Glad your healthy enough after to rant and write! I’m sure Don Juan will have a way to heal your racecar because “a little peyote never hurt anyone”! TT {TR3A}

  12. Hi Bill:

    Sorry to hear about Peyote but I’m glad you’re okay. I’ve really enjoyed following your adventures on this blog & look forward to you getting a bit more active on the Stand up paddle blog once you get back to Hawaii…which reminds me, they may not be tomatoes but as I was leaving the Pono house for the airport to start my new adventure, I noticed a lot of little limes on the tree that should be ready for you when you arrive.
    I’m sorry the All Aluminum Tour ended that way, but I’m really glad you’re okay.
    Take care.

  13. B:

    Sad finish to a truly inspired race tour…I will miss the stories…and GREAT stories they were…

    Your Freind

    Rozier

  14. Pingback: Peyote and Nero

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