The Last Race at Road Atlanta
by Racer Dan
It was an unusually cold morning, and it was cloudy as well. Not the kind of weather most would have picked for driving around a favorite track of road racers. Tucked away in the foothills of the Georgia mountains, north of Atlanta is a track few have had the opportunity to challenge, and those that have almost all have stories of how the track has the ability to take its claim on every race day. The sign does not warn of its dangers, it only announces the name of the track, Road Atlanta.
It was less than two years ago, and I remember it well. There was a vintage race going on, and a group of us Corvette owners were invited to run the track for two laps. I brought the Stars and Stripes, and used the track to "christen" it on its' first drive after a completed frame off restoration.
As we strolled through the cold pits, we came across a tent with an unusual display. Under a tarp was a Camaro. It had the Sunoco paint scheme, and the plaque in front of the car told of the cars proud heritage. It was one of only three light weight L88 Camaros ever made. But something was amiss...
Under the front of the Camaro was two puddles, one that appeared to be oil, and the other antifreeze. Once the tarp was lifted, the Camaro shared with the crowd its recent damage. What was once a pristine restoration of a rare car, was now only half that way. From the firewall back, it was perfect. But in front of the firewall, it was a twisted mass of aluminum intertwined with sheet metal, and rubber hoses.
The damage was extensive, and when I inquired about the damage, the owner replied: "It was handling perfect, then all of a sudden the track just bucked up, and spit me out. I hit the wall..."
Well, ever since this event, every time I go to Road Atlanta, there is a story to tell. The last time, it was a girl in a Mustang that hit the guard rail when she failed to negotiate turn 7, the toughest turn on the track. Then there were the 6 BMWs that crashed one weekend, too.
Road Atlanta is a 2 1/2 mile course, that changes over 1500 feet in elevation. There is every conceivable type of turn, banked and not banked, along with three straights, the longest almost a mile in itself. But the straights are not the challenge, it is the turns, along with the lack of anywhere to hide if you get into trouble. A guard rail, a concrete wall, trees, or banks of tires and dirt will rattle your brain if you make an error.
The C5 Fighter Squadron entries were polished up, and looked like new. Mixed in with several other Corvette owners, was a group of Vipers, a few BMW's, two Ferrari's, along with about any other sports car made. Over 120 cars were to test the track on this 2 day event. Not all of them would finish, either...
Racer Dan, the Arkansas Flash, Carl (the Squadron's weapons expert), and Glenn were present for the day. Flash's 90 Red road racer was well prepared for the day, having just completed an honorable placing at the Pony Express 100, as well as winning the Dave McClellan award at the National Corvette Museum on Labor Day. It was as much a show car as it was muscle, and the near 600 h.p. NOS assisted 350 was ready to take on the world.
Racer Dan brought his original 86, with a handful of mods that would at least let him have a little fun. The C5 Fighter Squadron logo was stretched across the windshield, if nothing else so the Vipers knew what was knocking at their back door on the track!
The Flash was in the second group to go out, and then Racer Dan followed in group three. Racer Dan was pissed when he found out they were not in the same group. He was looking forward to teasing the Flash about blowing off his doors ... but knew he couldn't. The Flash was prepared to dust him, too once the yellow flag was dropped. But it wasn't meant to be...
Racer Dan was in the hot pits, lined up in the number one position to go onto the track. The third group was on hold, the corner works were holding out a red flag. Everyone knew what that meant. The track was at a dead stop. One of the cars had wrecked. The ambulance left down the front straight, and was followed by two support vehicles. After almost 15 minutes, Racer Dan was calmly looking out of his window, when an instructor come up to him.
"You know who it was that crashed, don't you?" the man inquired. It was Oscar White, Racer Dan's instructor at a previous run at Road Atlanta and also at Rockingham Motor Speedway.
Racer Dan's face started to loose color, and his voice was a little broken up, then he finally pushed out the words he really didn't want to ask ... "Oh no, not John. Is he OK?"
Oscar confirmed the Flash was walking on his own, but his Beautiful Red show car was totaled. He told him it was up on a wall of dirt, it had hit a guard rail too. His instructor was OK too, but the doctors are going to check them out for a while.
Racer Dan suggested he might as well go back to the pits, but Oscar, and his instructor in the passenger's seat of the only C5 Fighter Squadron entry left suggested he continue this run, and then decide after it is over.
Then Oscar told him that John's car will take a long time to pull it out, so it will be there, just past turn 7. Racer Dan was finally flagged off, and as he wound through the course, his instructor told him: "I know you are going to look at John's Corvette once we get around turn 7, so go slow. Once we go by it though, you got to put it out of your mind until the run is over. OK?" Racer Dan hesitantly agreed. As they approached turn 7, Racer Dan remembered the Mustang that had hit the guard rail in front of them. He was just two cars behind when it happened. After the turn, the C5 Fighter was all alone in the grass. The back end was up off the ground almost 3 feet, the nose of it was detached, as was several other pieces of body parts. The rear window was busted, the top broken, the rear bumper in pieces. The Corvette appeared to have crash landed from the sky the way it was hanging... It was hard for racer Dan to not share in his friends's misfortune.
Racer Dan stuck to his agreement with his instructor. As the yellow flag dropped, he pushed his Corvette like he never had before. He knew this was going to be his only run, and he had to make it count. In three laps, his first bogey appeared...
It appeared similar to the Grand Sport Corvette, but it was a Viper, the pride of Dodge's fleet, sports car wise. Racer Dan didn't waste any time, and lapped him with ease. Behind him was a black Corvette, that followed suit.
The very next lap, another bogey appeared, this time in the form of a Mustang. Again, with little effort, Racer Dan blew by, using the back straight to wind up the 350 cu. in. power plant to over 128 mph. As he approached a Red Viper GT as it passed under the Goodyear bridge, Racer Dan knew it was only a matter of time before he let him know that the Corvette cannot be beat on the track.
Racer Dan drafted the Red Viper for almost half a lap, until he got through the esses. Going into turn 5, Racer Dan had the edge, with the B F Goodrich R1 tires, and finally gave the Viper GT a look at the rear lettering on his hatch: "Team NCM" it boasted... The concrete barriers that had been placed on the track to protect construction workers at turn 5 posed no concern to him, he was now on a mission.
One Viper was left. It was another Blue one with white stripes. Racer Dan regretted he had to overtake him with his 86, knowing full well it would have been a lot more fun if it was a Grand Sport Corvette he was piloting. But none the less, he didn't waste time playing with it, and on the next pass on the front straight, with all watching, Racer Dan blew by him and left him behind. This one's for the flash he said, as he waved him off.
The run was over soon enough. Racer Dan felt good about it, but his mind was on his comrade. He knew it was going to be a tough night ahead. He pulled into the pits, and the C5 Fighter Squadron discussed what to do about John's Corvette.
Everyone thought it was impossible to fix it, but they didn't know the Squadron. With the help of all their talents, it was just a matter of time and money, and the General would surely pay the money end, after all it was a Fighter Jet!
With the Red Road Racer in tow in the enclosed trailer, the Squadron headed for the nearest hanger south of Atlanta, where the equipment and resources were to fix the Corvette. And it was going to be a long hard night for all. It was also going to take a lot of Millergenuinedraftinabottle to keep them focused on their next mission.
Meanwhile back at the track, the Vipers collected. They discussed the events of the run they had just completed. They never did understand how one lonely Corvette, followed by a black ZR1, could have possibly done them in. But the ZR1 owner knew. He had read about the C5 Fighter Squadron before. They've got a lot of secret weapons, and of course the General is backing them all the way...
The Squadron repaired the Flash's Fighter well enough for it to fly home, an 800 mile journey. It will rise again, he promised as he left. Only this time, it is going to be better!
Racer Dan scratched the thinning hair on his head, wondering just what in the world the Flash had planned. He couldn't possible imagine the Red Road Racer being "better" in the future... "You bet, Flash. Keep it above the clouds on the way home, buddy!" he replied. The weekend was over in a matter of hours and they were both back at work Monday. The Vipers headed home too. Who knows, maybe next time, they will get to meet The Flash, and REALLY get their doors blown off!