Have you ever had a solid game plan and it all went to shit right away? I thought I was being overly prepared to compete in my first Gridlife Touring Cup race by leaving a day early and my C5 Corvette, Bonnie, in the capable hands of GSpeed, a Corvette shop near Fort Worth, TX. Little did I know, I was going to be caught behind the eight-ball, with just two hours of sleep in the driver’s meeting and trying to solve a mystery worthy of Scooby-Doo. Today, I want to shed some light on my whole Circuit of The Americas (COTA) experience. Sometimes you think you are completely prepared, only to have that sinking feeling of being nowhere near ready enough.
Let us kick it off with the shit show that was my Thursday. My girlfriend and I packed everything into Gex (still working on the Lexus GX’s name) on Wednesday and drove it around the block to make sure the Hawk brake pads were bedded in and the Glexus (like I said, still working on the name) was ready for the 2,000 miles trip. I wanted to make sure I didn’t forget to tighten something or have a new noise spring up 300 miles down the road. The first sign of trouble was when Gex needed to be jump-started. This was odd, but the temperature recently dropped to the single digits and then back up to 20 degrees, so I figured that played a part. After the jump-start, the warning light for the battery stayed on. I drove around the block thinking that maybe the battery just needed to charge a bit, but as I pulled back into my driveway, it stumbled and shut off. I knew that’s typically a sign of a dead alternator, but I did one more test: jump-started it again and unhooked the battery as the car was running. Immediately, Gex died. Not a good sign at all. I looked up the book hours to replace an alternator on a GX and it was roughly four hours, which would put an incoming winter storm right on top of us. I contemplated renting a vehicle that could also tow the Vette, however, adding cost to an already expensive trip was out of the question. In typical Devin fashion, I decided to say fuck it and swap the damned alternator as quickly as possible.
Four and a half hours later, it was job complete. Even though it sucked, I knew I was fortunate that it happened when it did. Snow was already starting to fall heavily, and could you imagine changing an alternator in a parts store parking lot with 6 inches of snow on the ground? With Gex ready to go, I knew we were in for a hell of a journey. Whether or not you like the Chicagoland area, they do one thing really well and that’s getting roads cleared. The expressways had average traffic and were moving decently at 65-70mph. Not too shabby. From looking at the Weather app, I knew I had to get about 350 miles south where the snowstorms turned into just regular thunderstorms. As the snow stopped falling, the temperature decreased right with it. It went from the mid-20s to single digits within a matter of hours.
As we were moving outside of the metro area of Chicago and into the cornfields of rural Illinois on the I-57 expressway, we noticed the roads were white, but now kind of shiny too. It was snowing, but the roadway had a nice sheet of ice on it. As we slowed down to 35 mph, within 5 miles, you could see the carnage. Tractor-trailers, cars, and trucks, all in ditches, or facing the wrong direction. While driving, the roads on Google Maps on my phone’s screen had gone from green to yellow and finally red. We all know this universal signal; the roads were coming to a standstill. As we crept another mile down the road, we could see hazard and police lights. A semi-truck had hit one of the overhead signs and blocked all the lanes. That stoppage lasted for 6 hours total. We traveled 150-ish miles in roughly 8 hours. Oddly, and luckily, after a detour of about 10 miles, we hopped back on I-57 and all the roads were clear.
The rest of the trip was uneventful, if you call being terrified of your girlfriend’s driving uneventful, and we arrived at GSpeed around 9 pm on Friday, a mere 9 hours later than my original target. As you’ve read in a previous article, I had dropped off the Vette a few months earlier with GSpeed and let them do their thing with a hard deadline of having the car ready for GLTC COTA. As I walked in, there was a familiar feeling in the air. A hint of frustration with a sprinkle of confusion. For those who aren’t familiar with this atmosphere, it’s that of troubleshooting something that was supposed simple but was now not cooperating, and what was going to take 5 minutes had been going on for hours. The C5 didn’t want to start and when it started; it didn’t stay running. The team at GSpeed were real professionals and they barked out orders and moved with a level of precision that was a sight to behold. I stepped out of the way because I would have been a moving roadblock that hampered their progress.
Midnight rolled around and I was thinking about convincing Louis, owner of GSpeed, to let me borrow a Trans-Am SGT car, but ole Bonnie knew her fate was in jeopardy, and she started up and stayed running. The team did some checks and concluded that everything was ready to rock and drove her over to the dyno. They ran a couple of baselines to make sure nothing leaked or would explode, and we did a power pull with no throttle body restrictions. Bonnie made a staggering 250-wheel horsepower, truly earth-shattering numbers. We reduced the throttle body opening more and more until it made 220-wheel horsepower, the required amount for my race weight as determined by Gridlife Touring Cup rules.
The time was now 1 AM Saturday morning and I still needed to make the trip to Austin, TX, roughly 3 hours away. With the car finished, this was an enjoyable trip, and I was so relieved. I had a smile on my face as I pulled into the hotel at 4:30 AM. I knew if I felt the sweet joy of that Best Western pillow, I would not wake up for another 12 hours, so I dropped off the girlfriend and headed to the track. I rolled into the paddock and found a random spot to take a 2-hour nap. As I woke up, tiredness hit me like a ton of melatonin-laced bricks.
Sleep deprivation can cause you to forget a lot of common things, and I was not immune. I walked over to the driver’s meeting because I was sure as shit wasn’t missing one again after being racked over the coals by the online community for missing one in the past. I then picked up all my required items to get on track, went back to the truck, and started my unloading process.
The trailer has a dovetail that requires Jenga levels of precision with woodblocks to allow the Corvette to roll off. I had someone “watching” as I backed up the Vette and unfortunately, they didn’t notice the frame getting close to the trailer and I high-centered myself. While this was happening, I was running out of time to get the car teched before practice, but another competitor’s father (Austin, tell your dad thanks again!) did some wizardry with a jack and got me unstuck. With the car finally on the ground, I grabbed all my gear and rushed to be teched. Thankfully, Bonnie passed with flying colors, and I drove out of the tech garage, which lead to COTA’s amazing hot pit, right on the front straightaway. At that moment, I felt how truly awesome it was to be at the Circuit of the Americas.
Getting a late start to practice, I drove down the pitlane of this gorgeous track for the first time. It felt surreal. I hadn’t seen a track since pre-Covid, so it was a bit of sensory overload driving a race car. I had also never driven a track with 20 turns on it. The inner “hell yeah” in me just started driving, trying to get comfortable with the track, but the car was smoking, and getting worse and worse, so I came in thinking something may be wrong.
At COTA, if you oil down the track, it’s $265 per bag to clean it up. The last thing I needed was to grenade an engine during practice. In the pits, I checked the oil level and pressure. I also couldn’t find anything wet in the engine bay or beneath the car, so nothing was leaking. Everything checked out and the smoke seemed to come from the exhaust, not uncommon for a fresh build burning off the byproduct of mechanics working on it. Comforted, I deemed it okay for the remainder of the weekend.
Qualifying wasn’t too far away, and I was scatterbrained with what I needed to do. The Race Director informed me I needed a window net, and my teammate Hayden searched the pits and found me one. As I rolled down pitlane to go out, some guy was screaming something, but I couldn’t hear, and I wasn’t sure if he was talking to me. I was sent out on track and the car felt far looser than it had in the previous session. I thought it was just cold tires and that it would get better after my out lap, so I proceeded to attempt to set a good qualifying hot lap. After my first hot lap, I was convinced something was wrong, so I dialed it back to 8/10ths and tried to make it around the track.
As I was coming through the esses, I hear a loud pop, and the car suddenly pitched to the right. As I countersteered and managed the throttle, the car easily came back straight, so I was thinking I might be okay. Nope, it pitched again and this time I spun out.
Now I was sitting in the middle of the second part of the esses thinking to myself, “If I sit here, they will black flag the session to come to get me and ruin qualifying for everyone else.” I inched forward to see if it was a broken control arm and the car moved smoothly. Rad, the car was movable, but something was wrong on the right side. I limped Bonnie through the next two corners, and I saw an opening in the fence. In the driver’s meeting, they told us that openings marked with orange are where you should go if you were having issues. The only problem with this was that there was a small gravel trap in front of it. I gave it some beans and promptly beached myself (needed more beans). Eventually, the safety crew made its way over to me and informed me I popped a tire, which was the best-case scenario. Apparently, the guy screaming at me in the pits was my buddy, Chris. He was trying to tell me I had a flat.
Back in the pits, we set out to figure out what I might have damaged, which, by some miracle, was next to nothing. The bad news was as I was driving on the tire to get out of the way, I damaged the sidewall and when the tire was remounted, there was a one-inch bubble, so it was unusable. One of the other Vette owners let me borrow two of their spare wheels and tires, which didn’t match what was on the front but allowed me to keep rolling for the weekend. With Hayden and Chris’s help, we double-checked everything and felt like we were ready for Race 1. I was going to run some laps around freaking COTA!
Somehow, I didn’t qualify last with my one hot lap, which felt pretty good. However, that quickly turned into nervousness. Wheel-to-wheel racing is a completely different ball game than the Time Attack sessions I am used to. My goal was honestly not to hit anyone. I didn’t want to ruin someone else’s race because of my mistake or inexperience. I started 30th, and pretty soon I moved up to 22nd!! And then went back down to 24th. By race end, the car was hard to handle, but this was expected with different compound tires and a brand-new build. I left Race 1 feeling calm, despite having hyped myself up pre-race. Driving wheel-to-wheel wasn’t as stressful as I thought it would be. With my first race under my belt, it was for sure time for some got-damn sleep, so I promptly packed up a few things and left for the hotel.
I got a solid 6 hours of sleep, but as the sun started peaking over the horizon, I was quickly reminded how much I hate getting up early for track events. Race 2 was a standing start using the F1 lights, so I was stoked as I was familiar with launching from a drag racing tree and I was pretty good at it. As I got the text to come to the grid, I got all my gear on and hopped in the car. I went to hit the starter button, and nothing happened. I turned everything off and tried again. Nothing. Damn. I got out and started pushing the heavy sum-bitch uphill in the paddock by myself. Fortunately, the person next to me helped out, which allowed me to get in and bump start it. Bonnie came straight to life, and I headed towards the grid.
I almost missed getting out on track as the startup issues left me with seconds to spare as I pulled onto the front straight. A minute later we were off to do our practice launch and warm-up lap. On the warm-up lap, everything seemed fine, the car felt good, and everything was working. We get back around and lined up in our grid spots for the standing start. This felt like Forza in real life! Engines were revving and the start light sequence began. I was holding right at the perfect RPM and suddenly, a weird calm came over me when that last start light became fully lit. In that moment, I swear a dove flew right across my windshield. The start lights turned off, which meant it was time to go!
The launch felt great, with my drag racing experience coming into play. I was gaining on the Miata in front of me until he moved over, and I checked up a bit. We got to the apex of Turn 1 and the car stumbled. No power. I aimed for the orange opening right in front of me and Bonnie shut off again. That was it, there went my race.
The safety crew got me to an off-ramp and told me I could go if I wanted. I promptly coasted down into the GSpeed camp. I talked it out with their team and one member went over and hit the start button and it started right away. What the heck? He let me know that sometimes if there are under 7 gallons of gas in the tank, Vettes can fuel starve on turns like Turn 1. They told me to just put more gas in it and it’d be fine. Problem solved. I leave Bonnie with them and go get my lady something to eat before she murders me. When I returned, I went to start it and nothing again. I ask to be bump started and still nothing. The car was acting like it wanted to start but wouldn’t fire. GSpeed connected a laptop to the ECU and it wasn’t reading a fuel pump signal. I went back to my pit area, dejected. Race 3 was about to start, so I was preparing to go watch it since my fuel pump was dead, when another person from GSpeed ran over and asked, “Did you just try putting more gas in it?” He checked the fuel pump manually while I was putting in the gas he brought with him. When I was done, we bump started it again, and what do you know, it started right up.
The GLTC grid was starting to head out and I went to the onsite gas station. As I was filling up, I did my walk-around check because I planned on going straight to the grid. Ten gallons later, I was ready to go. I put on all my gear and headed straight to the grid. As I slowly entered the pits, I could see that there was a full-course caution and figured I was only one lap down. I speed around the track at 8/10ths like I was a real F1 driver catching up to the pack. I figured it’d be more fun to chase someone in last rather than to just drive around by myself. I ended up catching up just in time to take the green flag for two laps. Everyone’s pace had picked up and I didn’t make a great restart. I wasn’t catching up to anyone and now I was getting frustrated and started making rookie mistakes. But hey, I finished the race and most importantly, I didn’t hit anyone.
The final race of the weekend was uneventful for me. I started in third to last with some of the front runners that were disqualified from Race 3 behind me. I watched as they sailed away out of my view by Turn 5. It was a rather frustrating race because I was driving 10/10ths, to the best of my ability and yet everyone was slowly pulling away from me. I ended up starting in 28th and ending 29th thanks to a car retiring with two laps left. However, I finished. I finished my first wheel-to-wheel weekend unscathed. As I took the final checkered flag, all I could think about was if this was worth it. The frustration, the money, the lack of sleep, the tough road trip, the emotional roller coaster. Was it worth it?
The answer to that? I don’t know. However, I am grateful to have people like Hayden, Chris, Stubz, Franz, GSpeed, and a fellow competitor, Clayton, to keep the morale high.
What I do know is that while being the most disappointing weekend of my life, I still learned so much. I added new things to my pre-trip, pre-grid, and post-grid checklists. I’m learning how to deal with my emotions when things aren’t great in real-time. I learned that I should try to prepare for the unpredictable, even if that sounds impossible. Simply controlling what I can control to be in a better position for the things out of my control. I learned how important it is to surround yourself with great people. Without GSpeed, Speed Street, Hayden, my girlfriend, Jason, Chris, and everyone that helped, I wouldn’t have done anything. It takes a team to be successful and this weekend proved that!
With my first wheel-to-wheel event done, let’s see what happens at the National Corvette Museum GLTC race in April!
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