When the weekend begins there is always hope. Any given day a miracle can happen, especially at God’s “House of Speed” that we call Daytona. BJ McLeod Motorsports entered their second full season with 3 cars, the 8 driven by Champion Jeff Green, the 78 driven this weekend by development driver Clint King, and the 99 driven by veteran driver David Starr. All three were ready for a great weekend on the high banks.
Thursday started for the team as a simple “tech” day, going over all the new rules and inspecting the new cars for 2017. Without incident the team made it through the day and prepared for their first practice of the year.
Friday, “I wanna go fast!” With two practice sessions totaling less than two hours, the team didn’t have much time to work on any set up. Each car made a few single car, qualifying runs in Practice 1. Carefree Catering supplied lunch before the next session. Practice 2 saw more of the same from the team, single car runs to work on qualifying speed. The sessions flew by quickly and before you could look at the stopwatch, darkness was setting upon us.
The truck race, what a crazy event. It was filled with cautions and bent sheetmetal as the excited group waged war high and low. As the event went on you could hear the rumblings of the new rules, the new stages. Action couldn’t pick up anymore before Stage 1 ended. In those short laps, the truck drivers schooled the world on what the new format would bring. By the end of the race we had seen trucks take to the skies and mow the lawn multiple times over. When the checkered flag finally waved to call for peace, most trucks had seen their share of battle scars.
Overnight I think many owners and drivers hoped that Saturday would prove to be different, that drivers who were a little older and more experienced would be more set on the “Big Picture” of racing. With all the torn up pieces loading up there was plenty to remind everyone of how expensive this pay-to-play sport can be.
Fog lifted on the Saturday morning, the sun shining off the Atlantic and calling the combatants to arms. As the crews worked through prequalifying technical inspection, the drivers suited up in their modern day fire proof armor and set to mount their steeds. With the 99 locked in and Jeff Green the likely would-be recipient of the “Past Champion” provisional, the main worry would be the 78.
Jeff Green was the second to take time and jumped well out in front. Clint King took time and needed to outrun four others. He got three and when the 13 car failed to post time, Clint was in. David Starr was the eleventh to post time and easily qualified. The lineup was set. Starr would roll off P33, King and Green would roll P38 & P40 respectively. There was just a 3 hour wait before the green flag would unleash these knights on a battle long prepared for.
The cruelest of fates always seem to happen to the greatest of people. Sadly, the BJMM team was bit, immediately. Lap 1 would see the 3 fates turn their eyes on the 99 almost immediately, the engine that easily powered David Starr to P33 for the start would expire before even stretching it’s legs on the backstretch. Before the caution could halt the ensuing battle the fates then turned to the 8 car.
Jeff Green would suddenly lose power entering the backstretch. The car slowly rolled and Jeff would describe to the crew that there was an issue with the main power switch. As they pit under caution, all purpose team player Hunter Bullins would manipulate the switch in the dash to reestablish power and give life back to this iron horse. [Note: This was a mechanical issue. It does not pertain to the garage rule or the 5 minute rule. Those rules only apply to incident damaged vehicles. The team could have gone to the garage, taken three hours to repair it and still rejoined the race.]
With the 8 back under power and the 78 behind (penalized back of field for pit road infraction after a subsequent caution) the team looked strong as they began to work their way through the draft. Jeff had already made up 2 of the 3 laps he fell during the first incident with the power switch. Poised to work their way into the fray they gained ground on the main pack.
The fates are known for being numbered in threes; so they struck. With the 99 in the garage the fates took to spinning their yarns. Jeff and Clint both looked to escape a large scale accident, they got slowed up, but as is so often the case, you get tied up in another’s mess. The 8 car would sustain terminal damage immediately. Crew Chief, David Ingram, called it directly to the garage. Clint came to the attention of his crew. A red flag would interrupt work and pause their 5 minute clock at 3 minutes, 30 seconds.
As the red flag was withdrawn, the crew set to work trying to mend the wounded vehicle. There are times when seconds feel like minutes, but under these conditions it is quite the opposite. The minutes streamed by as quickly as water under a bridge. Time was up before the crew could get it rolling again. The day was done.
Though the results were not at all what any member of the team wanted, the drivers were safe, nothing hurt save a little pride. That is what matters the most, people.
People make this sport go and I believe that when people unite with a common goal they can and often do achieve uncommon feats. The team will have all hands on these cars, shaping and bending and molding and nurturing them back to health.
The BJMM team records finishes P38, P39, and P40. However, they were there. All three cars made it into the race and none of them retired due to something they did. This is a humbling experience, but the team is up to the Herculian effort it takes to come back.
We will see them back again and I will see you in the box.
…and if you need an Ice-Frost Cold drink after this, I will join you…