From Your Eyes: 2020 Time Trials National Tour at GingerMan

From Your Eyes: 2020 Time Trials National Tour at GingerMan

On the way home from the 2020 Tire Rack SCCA Time Trials National Tour at GingerMan Raceway Powered by Hagerty, after I’d waved goodbye to Frank Putman (who was Detroit-bound) and headed South towards Ohio, I started thinking back about the event–how I’d done and more importantly the spirit of the champions I observed there.

The SCCA Time Trials program is an Experiential program and is not recognized as a championship. But, in the approximately 100 miles spent on track (from a 1700-mile round trip) and the time spent in the paddock, I not only observed champion-level driving on track but champion-like behavior in the paddock. Whether you call time trialers podium finishers or wannabe club racers, there is no denying their champion spirit.

The program is drawing in autocrossers, club racers, track day enthusiasts and even a rallycrosser who showed up and acquitted himself very well in the low grip surface and conditions of GingerMan Raceway. The event drew a sold-out crowd (102 participants) from as far away as Long Island and South Carolina. The weather was extreme on both days of the event but everyone, participants, event planners and workers, endured and in doing so, championed the “one team” spirit of Time Trials.

I arrived at the track after sleeping in from a 12-hour drive from home in Upstate New York. Frank Putman was kind enough to save me a spot in the paddock next to him and even lent me tools so I could change wheels. Nicholas Zelisko (known for what is called the Zelisko Hop at NCM Motorsports Park) stopped by with his posse to say hi. Seeing that I was signed up for the event, he shared videos from his previous events at GingerMan earlier in the week. He rode out with me for the parade laps as he talked me through the corners and provided information I could use. He’d set a 1:45 there and my goal was to get somewhat close to that. Funnily enough, Nick too wanted me to get there – he said I could stop by and discuss corners at any time.

Bernie Kaeferlein is another Time Trials fixture. I first met him in 2018 at the Time Trials Nationals. Bernie was not only competing at GingerMan, but was also the coach for the group I was in. Bernie is very affable and blessed with a good spirit. So, as much as he had to deal with a herd of mewling cats, he handled it with grace and good humor, and kept the group from getting into too much trouble. Bernie didn’t have to accept the coaching assignment, choosing to focus instead on competing. But the fact that he volunteered as well as finished on the Sport 6 podium attests to the champion spirit in him.

Sharing Day One with another event meant that the Time Trials National Tour got underway at noon on Saturday. It was a typical midwest summer day with high-heat and humidity. There was a steady wind that helped deal with the oppressive conditions and the later start meant that the sessions ran in relative quick succession.

The nature of the track at GingerMan is forgiving on most corners given the wide runoffs and lack of obstacles to hit. This meant that people were pushing for a fast time including yours truly who went four-off at Turn 1 and sheepishly reported back to pit-lane to consult with Coach Bernie. I wasn’t the only one – another car dropped fluid on track and the resulting cleanup meant that our second time attack sessions were reduced to 15 minutes for all groups.

Credit goes to the team running the event here for staying on top of all the things they had thrown at them and ensuring that the event ran like clockwork. John Hunter once again stepped up to play event lead and the rest of Time Trials team including Heyward Wagner, Jon Krolewicz, Kristen Poole, Brandy Wiggans, Tom O’Gorman and Andie Wolfe donned multiple hats which meant they not only played their primary event role, but also stepped in to help in other capacities.

It wasn’t just the Time Trials team though. Seeing that help was needed to set up for the Hagerty Party, several volunteers stepped up and helped to organize a fantastic social distanced dinner at the track. Family members of participants and some drivers helped with tasks like filling up cups with condiments, filling coolers, organizing tables and the logistics and even helped with serving food in a safe manner.

Any mention of the Hagerty Party would be unfinished without mentioning Mark and Stephen Miller. They’ve taken on the thankless task of feeding all of the participants at most Time Trials events. If I had to ballpark the number of people fed at GingerMan, I’d say it had to be around 150 including crew members. Mark and Stephen were at Virginia International Raceway for a Track Night in America on Thursday. Knowing that the local butcher would close at 5 PM on Friday and knowing that they had to start preparing a day ahead for the party, they drove all night from VIR with only a few stops for rest in between. They fired the smoker up on Friday evening and had a delicious meal ready on time by Saturday just as the track action came to an end. And, they did all of this while also competing at the event in their NB Miata. If you’re at any subsequent Time Trials events where the Millers are handling party duties, be sure to thank them for their hard work.

Sunday arrived all dark and ominous and with dire weather predictions from all the local news channels. TrackSprint sessions were scheduled to run that morning and they started on time. I made my way to grid way ahead of time and stood by watching John Hunter listening to calls on his radio. His brow was furrowed no doubt, and I am sure there were many things he was pondering, but he gave me a big smile and asked how I was doing.

Before I headed to grid for the TrackSprint, I was on my way to make a pit stop when Dan Griewisch accosted me and pulled me along with the group he was taking over to look at a track map on a facility building. I’d met Dan at Thompson Speedway and we had a brief conversation. So, it was certainly very generous and helpful of him to pull me in with his group of friends and give us his take on the TrackSprint layout and where grip lay. I set a decent time on the TrackSprint and the credit for that goes to Dan. He didn’t have to help me. I was, but an acquaintance. But he did and that made me all the more happier for him, when he finished first in the Sport 5 class.

After my TrackSprint was complete (including a delay for lightning), the paddock was beset by more bad weather. This moved the event schedule into the afternoon as one more group had yet to complete their TrackSprint. Come time for the time attack sessions, I was in the group that went out as the rain started pelting down again. I came back in with a decent wet lap time and a slim hope arose from deep within that perhaps I might have a chance at winning a trophy.

But track conditions improved and the others in my class were able to keep their positions with good lap times. Rain is called the great equalizer and it really did play its part when fellow New Yorker, James Barry, pulled out all stops and made the most of drying conditions to set a time in his 2019 Subaru WRX STI that moved him to Overall Fastest Time for the event in addition to a class win. As I look at lap times within my group, the lack of aero on my car may have impeded me from closing the gap to the podium, but I can take satisfaction from consistent lap times in two different sessions where the grip only went from bad to worse.

I was happy to see Nick Zelisko win the Max 3 class and to see his brother, Brian, take second place in Max 1 – second to a McLaren 720S. Nick was happier than I was about my lap times, saying I was doing very well for being at GingerMan for the first time in a car that he felt was under-prepped. Dallas Reed, the hardest working Time Trials driver in my book, not only won his class after going off (to avoid a spinning car) and damaging his front wing. He worked all-night to get his car fixed and won the Spirit of Time Trials award for his efforts. Having watched Dallas in action since 2018, there was no one else that deserved it more than him.

Sportsmanship was on display on track as well. Chen Chen, who was running his Scion FR-S in the same class and group as me caught up to me on track and I let him by past Turn 6 by backing off the gas to allow him to go by. He then returned the favor on the following lap as he lifted to let me by. John Li, who was faster than me, but for some reason was gridded behind, caught up to me and could have gone all ‘Max Verstappen’ on me at the entry to Turn 5. But as he explained later in paddock, he saw no reason to try and pass me at a section on the track where both of us would have gone home with damaged fenders. He was gracious too and said I had nothing to apologize for. Likewise, Michael Trask, Chris Finnigan and Nicholas Bondi were also well-mannered on the track as I watched them allow me and others by in the spirit of true sportsmanship.

I saw Karl Rademacher again. Karl not only helped crew for John Krupa who finished on the podium in the U1 class, but also got out on track to help flag a corner. This isn’t the first time that he’s helped support the event either. Karl was also in action at the 2019 Time Trials Nationals where he helped by flagging a corner.

By now, I hope I’ve been able to illustrate how these many individuals and their stories contributed to the success of the event. The weather may have pounded us but couldn’t dampen our collective spirit which enabled the successful running of a sold-out event. There was only a single award for Time Trials Champion but as you can tell there were champions galore at GingerMan Raceway for the 2020 Tire Rack SCCA Time Trials National Tour Powered by Hagerty. These champions were not just podium finishers, but event officials, crew, workers, family members and every one that participated and drove to the limits afforded by their car and skill. They cheerfully adhered to social distancing norms but didn’t let the rules of maintaining distance keep them from ensuring the next person was having a good time too. Everyone there was a champion individually and by being at their best, championed the running of the event.

Before hitting the road, and as the paddock was emptying out, the Millers, Frank Putman and I came together for a group elbow bump in the spirit of “one for all, all for one.” I think that moment perfectly highlighted this event and what the Time Trials program is all about.

My sincere thanks to the Time Trials Program staff for facilitating my participation at this event by waiving the cost of entry. To Harry Adalian, who remotely looked at my data and told me where I should push harder. To Nick for his support and encouragement and to Frank for saving me a spot in the paddock, sending me home with beer and for suffering me as a companion for two whole days.