The Fitzgeralds take on Road America!

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Karl

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Road America may never be the same; the Fitzgeralds have seen to that! This was SVRA (Sportscar Vintage Racing Association) weekend, and the field would include cars from Corvairs, VW's, Mini-Coopers, to Ford GT-40's, Indy cars, Formula 1, and everything in between; not just restored, but meticulously restored and race ready.

Jerry and Ardra stopped at Elkhart Lake, WI for four days of what I'm sure they thought would be warm, calm, and quiet R&R on their journey from Minneapolis to the Indy 500. Not so. They arrived on Thursday while I was at the track for a private test day. The weather has been unseasonably cool and rainy recently, and this weekend was no exception. We met in the late afternoon at the Marsh Lodge restaurant called Three Guys and a Grill (they charcoal grill almost everything over real charcoal -  well maybe not soup), and by the time I got there, Jerry, gregarious as ever, had gotten to know the owners, one of the owners mother, bartender, wait staff, and probably half of the customers, their children's names, and who knows what else, and spent a great few hours talking about all of you and enjoying a nice dinner. Forgot to mention that the restaurant is right on the campgrounds. Before parting for the night, I gave them instructions on where to go for their credentials. They had already been to the track, drove around quite a bit, went to the top of the Media Center, etc. so finding Registration wasn't a problem.

Friday loomed cool and early (I had to be at the track at 7:00 a.m.) and sure enough, by 11:00 a.m. they were walking up to Corner 5, commonly called the catcher's mitt because of all the cars we collect in our gravel pit and runoff area. It's at the end of the long, back straight (roughly one mile), and cars frequently come in a leeetle too fast to make the 90 degree lefthand turn at the end. That day was mostly practice followed by a 25 lap (100 miles) Enduro.

Saturday was taken up with 6-lap qualifying races, followed by a 50 lap Enduro. During the lunch break, we left the corner and went to the Media Center, which houses Race Control, where they were able to see the inner workings of a race event, view the track from all the tv cameras around it, and meet the faces of the people behind the voices on the radio known as "Control", "Safety", and perhaps one or two other things from time to time ;).

Time for the Enduro. Not unexpectedly, rain started falling half way through by the bucketful, with the wind was blowing it sideways most of the time. As you may know, road races are run rain or shine; not like those wimpy good 'ole Southern boys that always turn left  ;), but some drivers chose to end the race early by driving straight off into the gravel pits or hitting walls, etc. One even went so far as to detonate his engine about half way down to Corner 5, leaving a strip of oil (3-feet wide, in some places). Remember that oil and water don't mix? Well, oil and water and racecars REALLY don't mix! In the space of roughly 1 minute, I had 4 cars in various states of disarray; one had mated with the concrete barrier and another two had decided to get up-close-and-personal with each other. And where were Jerry and Ardra while all this frolicking was going on? I have no clue, but I'm sure it was warm and dry!

Sunday is RACE DAY! Jerry and Ardra were planning on coming for another Enduro that starts 11:00 a.m., but it had gotten down to 33 the previous night, so I called Jerry from the track and told him to wait until it warmed up a bit. Uh-uh. They showed up just before 11; Jerry in multiple layers and wearing what could best be described as a poor-man's French Foreign Legion cap, and Ardra in her finest sweatsuit (with multiple layers underneath), and combat boots. I told her I had a formal function to go to in a few weeks, and asked if I could borrow them ;D After some do's and don'ts about working a corner and explaining the hows and whys and whens of using the various flags, I had them practice a bit before the races. What I forgot to do was tell them that all races are started under a double-yellow flag for the pace lap, where you hold two yellow flags together side-by-side at their tops and bottoms. It's really a simple process; one (almost) anyone can master after a few tries. You hold the sticks of the flags together in the center, one facing right; the other left with your right hand, then, while holding the flags in the air this way, you reach down and grasp the free-hanging corners of the flags (those directly below your right hand) with your left hand. Of course, Jerry had his own way of doing things ::) He held the two flags together with their sticks properly, but instead of raising them and grasping the bottom edges, he tried to reach over the sticks with his left hand to grasp them. Now he lifts his left hand high, his right hand with the sticks low, resulting in two yellow flags hanging shapelessly in the breeze! Those of you who witnessed his demonstration of the chaise lounge at the Red Hat meeting two years ago can really appreciate what it looked like :D :D

All in all, we had a great Sunday! Both Jerry and Ardra did an admirable job with the flags during the races, even when it got a little hairy out there. First and second laps are particularly exciting when 20, 30, or 40 cars are coming at you nose-to-tail and side-by-side; all looking to occupy the same piece of real estate! I don't think they quite realized how close they would be to the cars, how much noise they made, how fast they go, or how fast things can happen, even though I tried to tell them ahead of time. At one time, I had them remove their ear protectors so they could hear what a screaming Formula 1 car sounds like in real life and no more than 6 feet away from you.

Would I have them work with me on a corner again? You bet! Now if I can just figure out a way to get Jerry to stop talking for more than 15 seconds at a time...... ;D ;D

 

Jim Dick

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Karl,

LMHO!!!! I wish I could have been there. That's funnier than Jerry climbing on top of Phil's rig in Moab around 7AM!!! ;D ;D ;D ;D ;D
 

Gasser

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Ada, Oklahoma
Sounds like a great time.  I miss my racing days.  Just don't have time anymore because of kids and work. :mad:  My last race was a Porshce club event at Daytona.  I qualified 24th out of 150 cars and that included all classes.  In my class I qualified 4th.  I did not finish the race because of an electrical issue but the track was fun and 165 on a 31 degree bank was a hoot.  I agree, racing is more than just turning left.  Road racing is king ;D
 

BernieD

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If only we weren't so paranoid about driving around Lake Michigan thru Chicago, we would have been there to enjoy the Fitzgerald learning to flag. I have many fond memories of watching Vintage and other racing at Road America when I was younger and Marlene and I driving lots of events at the track. Catchers Mitt is a new name, to us at least, for turn 5, but it was only the last year or two that we ran there that the gravel pit was put in.

Your description of the track, racing and of a couple of newbies learning about the behind the scenes events was priceless. Sorry again that Marlene and I couldn't join you for the fun.
 

Ron

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With all the new friends the Fitzgerald's made there they just might be offered a job. ;D ;D Better be careful Jerry. ;)  Thanks for sharing the event Karl.  Wish we could heave been there.
 

Lorna

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Hi Karl

Thanks for sharing the weekend with us.  It really brought back fond memories of years ago when I worked corners 2,3,5,Canada Corner and several others over a period of three yrs or more.  Of course, I didn't miss working in the rain or snow which we did have once or twice.  Maybe next summer we can come up there to join you some weekend for one of the races.  Will be looking forward to hearing Jerry and Ardra tell about their weekend there and at Indy.
 

Karl

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Gasser,

24th out of 150, and fourth in class is nothing to sneeze at! Darn good running, but what were you driving? Also, there are no banked turn at RA; fortunately non of them are off-camber either - that can make for some really interesting (read: I gotta change my underwear) experiences ::)

Bernie,
I know you raced a Porsche, and I would have loved to have you and Marlene be there too. Next weekend we have PCA (Porsche Club of America) Chicago region, and expect to have nearly 200 Porsches from 935's to 962's there - maybve even a few 914's thrown in for moving chicanes  ;D I'm really sorry you couldn't make it this year, and I understand your concerns about the traffic, but that's really a wimpy excuse ;D


 

Karl

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Lorna,

I know you've spent many a fine (and some not so fine) days up there, and I'm glad it brought back a few good memories for you. As you well know, the events we work in cold and rain and snow are not always enjoyable, but then, what would we have to talk about? Crashes? Fires? Seeing million+ $ cars flipping upside down? ... Boring (well, not really); the whole thing is about the camaraderie you build with your fellow corner workers (after all, you literally trust your life to each other), and drivers who depend on you to to keep them informed (thru flags) about ever changing conditions they may encounter. Few people have had the experience you have had, and I'm sure you treasure every moment of it.

Jeff,

It would have been great to have youse guys there also. Too bad you couldn't make it. Maybe next year I can organize an RV Forum weekend for all those interested :)  There is excellent rv camping a few miles from the track, and rv camping at the track, but you would have to make reservations well in advance. I can assist. You would get (yes, I know I've used this term before) up-close-and personal with real race cars at speed, and some excellent instruction from me personally (modesty has never been one of my finer points) ;D , and a tour of Race Control in the Road America Media Center.

I'll post later on this subject for next year, as this year is pretty well set in concrete.   

Again, Congratulations to Jerry and Ardra for a job well done!
 

BernieD

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Karl said:
Bernie,
I know you raced a Porsche, and I would have loved to have you and Marlene be there too. Next weekend we have PCA (Porsche Club of America) Chicago region, and expect to have nearly 200 Porsches from 935's to 962's there - maybve even a few 914's thrown in for moving chicanes  ;D I'm really sorry you couldn't make it this year, and I understand your concerns about the traffic, but that's really a wimpy excuse ;D

Karl

Our last event at RA was the Memorial Day weekend PCA event 3 years ago, I have a half dozen TRAC (The Road America Challenge) t-shirts to prove it  :D From that event we were driving to Elkhart, IN and, leaving RA early Memorial Day. were able to get thru Chicago OK but still had I80-90-94 to contend with. Uh, Uh, No, No.

This trip Marlene wanted to stop in Omaha for some geneology research and that put us on I-80 coming past. 1 1/2 hours waiting in line for the construction. Call me a wimp, but I'd rather do my time on the track.
 

Karl

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Darn Bernie,
A lot of the PCA members avoid the traffic by chartering their own helicopters to get them there; why can't you do the same? ;D

BTW: Rick Mancuso (whom you surely know) took up a collection and tipped all the corner workers an extra $50 for their one-day track test day last Thursday; 15 cars total including Brain French's 3 F1's, about 7 Indy Lites, a couple S2000's, and an Enzo Ferrari and Mercedes SLR thrown in for good measure. Rain started around 3:00 p.m., so we got done 2+ hours early!  :D
 

BernieD

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Karl said:
Darn Bernie,
A lot of the PCA members avoid the traffic by chartering their own helicopters to get them there; why can't you do the same? ;D

Would have needed 2 helicopters, one for the coach and one for the toad ;D ;D

BTW: Rick Mancuso (whom you surely know) took up a collection and tipped all the corner workers an extra $50 for their one-day track test day last Thursday; 15 cars total including Brain French's 3 F1's, about 7 Indy Lites, a couple S2000's, and an Enzo Ferrari and Mercedes SLR thrown in for good measure. Rain started around 3:00 p.m., so we got done 2+ hours early!  :D


Know Rick, ran with him long time ago. Were the Fitzgeralds amongst those getting tipped  ??? ;D ???
 

Karl

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Bernie,

No, they weren't there for that test day, and they didn't get paid for SVRA either, but they did get event patches, SVRA patches, and an SVRA beer can cooler.

What surprised me most about their visit is that I didn't see Jerry even once, walking around with his electric shaver, but then again I was gone by 6:30 a.m. every day.

Jim Johnson and his friend are motorcycling here from Denver for the BRIC on July 14-16. Should be a blast!
 

JerArdra

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Karl and all,

The real thank you goes to you, Karl!  You gave us something money can't buy.  It was GREAT working a corner on several REAL sports car races and it was exciting too. 

I still wonder if it's easier to grab the double yellow flags as you do, Karl, or if my method of reaching behind myself through my crotch from the rear and then step over the flags to untangle myself isn't the proper way.  Karl, you and I can demonstrate our methods at Quartzsite in January and have a vote by the RVFORUM members as to which is best.  The loser buys the winner his favorate drink...okay? 

Folks, this was a memorable weekend.  I have attached several photos from the races.

Thank you again...Karl.

JerryF
 

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Karl

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Jerry,

The loser buys the winner his favorate drink...okay?

O.k., but you'll be the winner just on showmanship ;D

A little info: The car in J5 is an original Can-Am car without the bodywork; large block V-8, Hillborn fuel injected, producing around 650 h.p. This was before fuel injection became commonplace on regular passenger cars. Oh, and Bob Goulet is not the Robert Goulet of stage and screen fame.
 

ArdraF

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Karl,

Thanks for both a GREAT weekend and the tears of laughter as I read your account of our adventure.  ;D  Yes, Jerry in his own inimitable way probably entertained not only you and me but also quite a few other people who were across the track from us on corner 5.  ;D ;D ;D

We really had an experience that only a friend can provide.  Our fashionable pink wristbands let us go just about everywhere on the grounds so we were able to wander at will.  The people were all very friendly and willing to talk with us newbies.  Let me tell you, some of these people who own vintage cars have some big $ to pay for their hobby.  ;)

Yes, working a corner can be very exciting, but as we quickly learned, it's also serious business.  For the uninitiated, on a very critical corner such as Karl's, one person faces the traffic holding a blue flag with a red diagonal stripe.  This flag advises a driver that someone may be trying to pass and the driver should look in the mirror.  The second person - with his/her back to the traffic - holds the yellow caution flag and looks for spin outs or other problems as the cars come out of the 90 degree turn.  This person immediately turns around and displays the yellow flag if there is a spin out or when told to by the person facing traffic.  The person facing the traffic also changes to a white flag as necessary to let drivers know what's ahead (for example, service vehicle in action).  There are other flags but these were the ones we used that day.

The person facing traffic is not only responsible for making sure the second person knows when to show the yellow flag if they see a problem but also for making sure that person is not in harm's way if a car hits the wall.  When Karl or Jerry were facing oncoming traffic, and I was the yellow flag person facing away from traffic, just listening to the the roar of the cars coming down the hill and not being able to watch them can be unnerving initially.  Also, when a car spins out right next to you, you quickly realize how important it is to show the yellow flag FAST to prevent an accident or injury.  Adrenalin definitely flows then.  Incidentally, the yellow flagger faces away from traffic to make sure there is no debris on the track and to keep an eye on the cars until they reach the next flag person.

I'm attaching some photos of our experience.  In case you can't find me, I'm the one in the fashionable white fleece with many layers of clothing underneath.  Karl told us that corner workers traditionally wear white - definitely not red, orange, or yellow that can be mistaken for flags.

We're now in Indianapolis and will see the Indy only as spectators.  I'm sure it will be fun, but not as much as being with Karl at Road America.  Just ask Jerry some day how to keep track of race laps with small stones and in binary!  ;)

Thanks again, Karl, for a super good time.

ArdraF
 

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BernieD

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Karl

If I could afford rig setup like in picture A5, along with the infrastructure of mechanics, parts, helpers, etc. that goes along with it, I would use a helicopter ;D ;D
 

Bob Buchanan

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Hello Ardra and Jerry:

>> We really had an experience that only a friend can provide.
====
Have really enjoyed this thread  :) -- and the pictures. Yep, Karl is that kinda guy . . .

Do you think that flaggers would help the situation on I5 on a holiday weekend?  ??? 

Hope your trip continues to go well.
 

Jim Johnson

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I guess I will  just have to play it cool when I get there in July.  There is no way i can compete with JerryF.  But at least I  can tell everyone I know him ;D   
 
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