Story by Vickie Miller. Photo by Sput Dodge.
Ode to the Oak Tree
In 1973 the song â€œTie a Yellow Ribbon â€˜Round the Old Oak Treeâ€ sung by Dawn featuring Tony Orlando (yes, I know all the words) was released. If you were at Virginia International Raceway (VIR) this past weekend, you are still holding onto your yellow ribbon with the Old Oak Tree goneâ€¦.
As a past visitor to VIR, I always looked forward to seeing my old big beautiful friend, the Oak Tree. The Oak Tree turn also had a gazebo nestled under the long big historic branches. While the turn is still there, it is not the same at all. The gazebo is goneâ€¦.the tree is goneâ€¦and only memories remain.
While the VIR track offers five configurations and is very picturesque, I feel sorry for first time visitors who did not experience the lovely Oak Tree. The majority of the trackâ€™s 3.27 miles full course has 137 feet of elevation, fast straightaways, and boasts 17 turns. I watched Sunday morning practice at the Oak Tree turn with sadness in my heart. One reason I love road courses more than ovals are the famous turns which hold such names as: â€œRoller Coasterâ€, â€œHog Penâ€, â€œSnakeâ€, â€œFish Hookâ€, and â€œThe Bitchâ€; which are a little more exciting than â€œTurn Oneâ€, â€œTurn Twoâ€, etc.
While VIR has kept part of â€œpapaâ€ Oak Tree, in the hopes of growing a â€œsonâ€ to be planted within the next 5 years, the original Oak Tree cannot be replaced. I spoke to many drivers on their feelings of racing around the Oak Tree turn without the familiar friend. The drivers said the tree served as a reference point and now needed to calculate that turn with a different strategy.
The racing at VIR, tree or no tree, is always exciting. With two days of burning sun and heat, Friday and Saturday, the race fans enjoyed on track activities featuring TUDOR (PC/GTLM/GTD classes only) with great racing from the support series, Continental Tire Sportscar Challenge (CTSC), Lamborghini Blancpain Super Trofeo Series (LBST), Cooper Tires Prototype Lites (Lites), Maserati Trofeo (MT).
The LBST races should not be overlooked with such drivers as Corey Lewis (Rebel Rock Racing, ST pole Kansas Speedway) and Aaron Povoledo (Pirelli World Challenge) winning both races and Kevin Conway (2013 LBST Champ and 2010 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Rookie of the Year) tearing up the track and two podium finishes. Also Andrew Novich is making a name for himself in Lites by taking the pole and narrowly finishing second by 0.214 second in the final lap. I first met Andrew when he was successfully racing with C360R in 2012.
I would suggest race fans should check out the entry list for all the series racing in a weekend and I know you will find one or two names you recognize!
Racing â€œincidentsâ€ are a part of everyday life at the track, but itâ€™s concerning when a driver is injured. During the Saturday practice, the Porsche driven by Richard Lietz and the Corvette C7 driven by Jan Magnussen experienced one of those incidents resulting in Richard having a broken arm. Michael Christensen was scheduled to drive the Porsche with Nick Tandy. For the race, Jordan Taylor replaced Jan as a precaution. I heard Jan was â€œdizzyâ€ and possible concussion, but donâ€™t quote me on this. Iâ€™m no Dr. Norman.
What could be more exciting than a three-way tie for the championship lead in GT Daytona ?!
With the win, Turner Motorsports (Cameron/Palttala) added their team to the championship mix. The Dempsey Racing Team (Davis/Dempsey) finally saw the podium this season with a much deserved great finish after repairing the car from an earlier practice incident. This race was very exciting with Davis making a last ditch pass on Leh Keen (Alex Job Racing Porsche). Even with Keenâ€™s fifth place finish, it was enough to enter them into the three way tie for the GTD champs race. The three tied teams are Turner Motorsports, Alex Job Racing, and AIM Autosport (Bell/Sweedler) Ferrari who finished 8th but went into the weekend with a three point lead. I often wonder what Davis and Keen are thinking when they pass each otherâ€¦â€¦.
After the rough start to the Road America race for RSR and team of Bruno Junqueira and Duncan Ende which saw Duncanâ€™s day ending early, VIR waited until very late in the race to bite Bruno Junqueira resulting in the race ending under caution.
With the two split PC races, there was no driver change either Saturday or Sunday. Each driver raced a 45 minute race with 8Star Motorsports team took both wins with Sean Rayhall leading from pole all 23 laps in Saturdayâ€™s race and Luis Diaz leading all laps on Sunday and holding off a big challenge from CORE Autosport driver, Colin Braun who started seventh.
If you are following along, all these cars amount to a track full of different types of rubber, providing more grip; amounts of dropped oil, providing more slick; and the season down to the wire. Many teams are thinking â€œchampionshipâ€ and going all out from the drop of the green flag. With two races remaining many drivers are racing for sponsors and making a name for a 2015 season ride.
Another change to the VIR track was the repaving. As the race weekend progressed, I did not hear any â€œbubbling upâ€ or â€œservice breakingâ€ type comments from the new surface even with the â€œalmost New Jersey heatâ€ weather. Overall the new surface was very well received. Many drivers had a up-close and personal experience with the lush green grassy areas around the track. Many fans refer to this off-roading as â€œfarmingâ€.
While the weather always is a mystery, Friday and Saturday were miserably hot, but the predicted rain made an appearance only to cancel CTSC ST qualifying and turned it into a practice session, which I didnâ€™t understand. Qualifying was called off after the cars had done several laps on the track. However as with any farm land, the early morning dewy grass did prove for a slippery surface and unforgiving.
Another historic change was using the International Motor Sports Association (IMSA) trailer version of a podium and not using the old Red Barn. When I arrived to the paddock early Friday morning, one of the first things I noticed was the NASCAR K&N Pro Series banner still attached to the Red Barn from prior weekend events. In front of the Red Barn podium was an IMSA hauler which did not look like it was moving anytime soon. I noticed the IMSA trailer podium across the paddock area strategically placed so the fans and photographers would look directly into the sun for any podium photographs. Sweet.
With the many viewing and camping areas around the track, I find it always difficult to determine the crowd or attendance size at road courses. Previous years, I have only attended VIR with GrandAm, so I do not the crowd size from the ALMS races. However, in comparison, I would say the attendance seemed to be the same as past GrandAm races or a little less. I spoke to a regular VIR event attendee, who mentioned all other track events are $10. The K&N NASCAR series races tickets were $10, however he had to pay $90 for the TUDOR weekend events. It is difficult to determine if ticket price kept fans awayâ€¦Iâ€™m just stating the facts.
Will the REAL Antonio Garcia please step forward? On a funny note, during the fan walk on Sunday, I was by the # 3 Corvette team with Jordan Taylor when a confused fan approached the team asking to meet Antonio Garcia. Antonio was there with his fire suit tied around his waist. One crew member, pointed out Antonio to the fan who replied, â€œthatâ€™s not him, thatâ€™s a crew memberâ€ so Antonio pulled up his fire suit to show â€œAntonio Garcia â€ embroidered at the waist, the fan was still not convinced. Antonio further put on his fire suit and turned around to show â€œGARCIAâ€ clearly on the back. To which the fan walked away, with Antonio head shaking, muttering to his friend, â€œnever mindâ€¦heâ€™s not hereâ€! It had to be one of the funniest (and saddest) things I have seen in a long time.
While at VIR, I had the pleasure to spend time with David A. Levine, CTSC driver of the #78 Ford Mustang Boss 302R with Racers Edge Motorsports in the Grand Sport (GS) class. This is the second year I have watched David race while he has consistently matured his racing skills resulting in improved race finishes.
The #78 Ford had a great 3rd place qualifying result from Davidâ€™s co-driver, Lucas Bize, who also started the race and unfortunately David experienced a seat problem resulting in ending the race in lap 26 and finishing 19th. While the team worked on the car, the overall factor is always the safety of the driver and the seat adjustment became too big an issue.
Q&A with David:
Favorite track to race (regardless of your results): Sebring (for the history) and Road America (he considers home track and long straights)
Favorite track to watch as a fan: SPA with LeMans a close second
Favorite track to do iRacing: Mosport with a Honda HPD 2011 WC Spec car
One unusual thing fans wouldnâ€™t know: David has a superstition of always putting on his left glove first when getting ready to race. Also he always wears red gloves!
And now a word from our sponsor! While many teams struggle to find funding for one race, David is very fortunate to have Gary Yeoman Ford on his car for the season. The Ford dealership is based in Daytona Florida and was familiar with the Racerâ€™s Edge team. However, the sponsorship expanded to being on Davidâ€™s Ford Mustang for the full season. It is very rare for a local dealership to be a major sponsor to a race car traveling far outside the customer base area. This is a testament to Gary Yeoman Fordâ€™s confidence in David and the team.
Do you prefer ovals (Homestead, Chicagoland) or road courses: David is not a fan of â€œrovalsâ€. Ovals tend to be more dependent on the car setup to gauge the racing competition, road courses rely more on driver skill and more technically challenging.
Thank you to Avast Communications for arranging the time for me to meet with David. I have seen David around the paddock where we have briefly spoke, and very much enjoyed getting to know him the diverse young man behind the wheel.
Davidâ€™s brother, Daniel, is on his way to be a professional tennis player. Daniel is entering his senior year of high-school and has held his own with tennis matches playing against Pete Sampras and John McEnroe. He is reviewing his tennis scholarship options from multiple big-time colleges. David returns to Furman University (Greensville SC) college this week entering his senior year pursuing a Communications major.
Davidâ€™s passion is to get back into a NASCAR series but he loves to watch the NASCAR Truck Series, which he feels should be the â€œbig showâ€ and the premiere event of the NASCAR race weekend. His favorite NASCAR driver is Jeff Gordon and he is a member of the ABKB (Anyone But Kyle Busch) club.
When not racing around the road courses, David can be found watching his favorite TV show, BBC Top Gear or playing video games Mario Kart or Battlefield. Check out Davidâ€™s website to find out his connection to Richard Petty! David is an ambassador for the American Heart Association where he has devoted time to visit childrenâ€™s hospitals and tireless effort to raise funds for his own campaign â€œDrive for Heartâ€. Read more here http://www.kansascity.com/sports/nascar-auto-racing/article488692/Sports-car-driver-David-Levine-puts-heart-into-his-racing.html
If you are at the Circuit of Americas (COTA) or the Road Atlanta Petit LeMans race at Road Atlanta, please take a moment to stop by Racers Edge Motorsports hauler and say â€œHelloâ€ to David Levine. If youâ€™re a Ford fan, find David at the Fan Walk prior to the race and see if you can stump him with a Ford Mustang question. While he may seem quiet, heâ€™s a powerhouse of driving knowledge and very fan friendly. I encourage you to watch him race his way through the field in the CTSC races and follow his career!!
Follow David on Facebook: David Levine Racing
On Twitter: @DaveLevineRacin
On website: http://www.davidlevineracing.com/
Check out Davidâ€™s team: Racers Edge Motorsports http://www.racersedgemotorsports.com/
If any fans have questions regarding travel to the race tracks, you are welcome to contact me. I am not a travel agent nor do I have any financial connection or gain to any hotels or travel agency, I am just a fan looking for a decent priced hotel and have been to all the tracks in 2015 schedule at least once! As always, if you see me at the track, please feel free to stop and say hello!
Thank you all for reading and I welcome your comments. I have no affiliation with IMSA, TUDOR, etc. just a fan. There are many blogs and websites where you will find statistics, results, and scoring from the race; this is â€œjust the way I see itâ€.
Got a response? Follow and tweet me @viclovesracing