As I’m sitting here in front of my computer, nearly three weeks after the conclusion of the Speedway Motors CAM Challenge East SCCA solo event held at Grissom Air Reserve Base in Peru Indiana from August 7th-9th, I think to myself, “How should I write about this event?”
I could do the typical SCCA-style write-up:
“With almost 100 drivers in roughly 70 domestic, rear-wheel-drive cars, competing in three SCCA classes (CAM-T [Traditional] for body styles from ’54-72, CAM-S [Sport] for vehicles with a minimum wheelbase of 90” and weight of 2600, and CAM-C [Contempory] for body styles from ’72 onward), the Speedway Motors CAM Challenge East SCCA solo event, sponsored by Ridetech and Wilwood brakes, rumbled Peru, Indiana for three days of competition, Saturday featured six runs in a traditional Nationals format with Sunday giving all competitors three runs to rank themselves for a bracketed shootout where winner takes all. Sam Strano took home the trophy both days, him and his 2014 Chevy Camaro dominating the CAM-C class on Saturday and squeaking out a win in the rain against Al Unser Jr in the Speedway Motors Camaro”
100% accurate, but in no way does justice to what the CAM Challenge East event was actually like to attend, and here’s why:
Blurbs like the one above don’t tell you anything about the feeling of pulling into the paddock early on Friday morning for registration and test ’n tune, only to see Mary Pozzi’s Camaro for the first time in the metal (And Mary Pozzi herself, who later that weekend was passing out fresh ears of corn to anyone that will take them. Looking back, that made little sense, but at the time it made perfect sense).
They don’t tell you about the non-stop roar of V8s, turbo sixes, and even a Ford turbo four rushing by you at full tilt as you run to shag fallen cones (Or in my case, blast photos while my spotter ensures that I don’t get run over).
They also don’t tell you about all of the strangers that will become your friends that weekend, or all of the racing tips and frustrations you’ll share with the guys and girls next to you in grid, even if they technically are racing against you.
Because write-ups like that suck, I’m going to tell you about my experience at CAM Challenge East. For anyone else reading this that attended, I hope you’ll do the same in the comments.
So, let’s get on with the story.
It’s no secret that I have a “real” job outside of BangShift, one with a paycheck, a desk, and a decidedly less-than-limitless amount of vacation time. Yes, I can sneak away for an occasional photoshoot at the crack of dawn or head out with Lohnes on a one-day weekend adventure, but come 8 AM on Monday morning and I normally turn into a pumpkin in regards to my BangShift duties.
For me, taking three days in a row off from work (Thursday through Monday in this case) is a big commitment typically reserved for vacations with the wife, not an 1800+ mile, 14+ hour, round-trip adventure in a ratty 80’s muscle car that I built in my mid-20s.
I’ve been attending SCCA Solo events for the last two years with my fraternal twin G-bodies, but the CAM class hasn’t really taken off in the New England region, what with most events having at most four to five entrants, almost all of which were modern (Model year 2000+ muscle). So, when I found out that there was an entire SCCA event dedicated to the Classic American Muscle class,most of which were CAM-T cars, I knew I had to go.
Motivationally, Lohnes dropping a big time TR quote on me as a call-out didn’t hurt either:
Let it be known for the record that after this call-our he bagged out of the event himself citing a “Prior engagement”, but I digress…
A big part of what made the CAM event special wasn’t the racing, but the trip itself, including the roads travelled and the people I had the good fortune of meeting that weekend.
Being a well-seasoned traveller of the Slightly-South-of-Boston to Ohio route thanks to his numerous runs to SCTA events, Brian strongly recommended taking Routes 81 -> 80 -> 76 to avoid tolls and traffic, at which point I was, in his words, “On your own to figure it out…you have a GPS, right?”. Well, I did, but it also had the battery life of an electric goldfish and my car didn’t have a working cigarette lighter. I actually used a paper map for most of the trip because of this. I wish I was kidding about this.
Rather than adopting his highway kamikazi tactics of leaving at 1 AM, I chose to leave at a more reasonable 4 AM, which would put me at my destination around 6 PM while still avoiding most of the rush hour commuters.
Forecast for that weekend was slightly cloudy with temperatures in the 80s. The combination of the weather with no AC and t-tops on due to the the second set of tires I was carrying meant windows down and the radio cranked. Fine by me.
Passing Summit Racing on RT 76 was neat, and the giant windmill field I spotted on RT 30 in Ohio was incredible.
Otherwise, other than Ohio seemingly being the land of a thousand McDonalds rest stops, an interesting accident or two, and my getting bent over for almost $4 a gallon for gas in New York, the trip both ways was pretty uneventful; then again, if I expected any less from a relatively low-output small block Chevy with at most 15,000 miles, I was fooling myself.
(REALLY glad the label was there. I was curious)
Wish I had more in the way of road trip stories, but with the goal of getting there/home in one day per trip I had to haul the mail and wasn’t able to stop for much other than gas and a scenic photo or two along the way.
At roughly 18 MPG highway I knew the trip was going to cost me a few bucks in gas, so having fellow BangShifter and G-body owner James Bishir and his wife Rebecca offer up their home to me for four days was generous beyond words. Before this trip James didn’t know me from a hole in the wall; to his credit he didn’t seem phased when a guy rolled up his driveway with an extra set of tires in the backseat. He must see this often?
After making introductions,talking G-bodies for a few hours, and being introduced to the future cinema classic that is Sharknado, we were fast to become pals.
Thursday night was an early one for the both of us as James had to work during the day and I needed to get over to Grissom to tech in my car and get some runs in at the test ’n tune.
Friday Test ’n Tune
Woke up to my alarm, only to go back to bed as it didn’t make sense that my phone said 6:15 AM but it was still dark out. Turns out that Indiana is Eastern time, but so close to Central that sunrise is almost an hour later than I’m used to. So much for being at the site by 7 AM!
After getting to the site at 7:30 to meet up with Lance Hamilton and his 1985 Monte Carlo SS (Of which you will be reading much more about in an upcoming feature), I spent the rest of the day ogling cars such as the Ridetech 48 Hour Camaro, Speedway Nova, and home-built creations that were what Pro-Touring is supposed to be all about: Cars that are built to run hard AND are run hard.
The tech-in process itself is standard SCCA, looking for loose objects in the passenger compartment/trunk, checking wheel bearings, battery hold-down, throttle return spring, and brakes. Nothing that your average BangShifty car shouldn’t have in working order anyway and in no way should be a deterrent for anyone interested in getting into autocross.
As part of tech your car is also weighed to make sure that it meets the minimum weight requirement for the class. From what I saw, no one seemed to have a problem here as every car entered had full interior and was completely streetable.
With tech over and done with, next up was test and tune, an optional set of runs on a simplified course. Not much more than a small slalom and some sweeping turns, it was a great time for the more serious cars to make tuning adjustments for the next day’s competition.
It was also a great excuse to hop in someone else’s car for a quick spin, either as a passenger or driver, which was strongly encouraged.
Just because it was a testing day and not real competition didn’t mean that people weren’t flogging their vehicles, as there was more than one spinout and an unfortunate blown motor that sidelined the blue Mustang seen below for the remainder of the weekend.
Against my better judgement I even let Lance Hamilton behind the wheel of my car, hoping that he would teach me a few things. He did, namely that I really need to work on my driving and that I REALLY needed to swap a T56 into my car for that added fun factor.
With my runs over with, I spent the rest of the day getting burnt (Note to self: Bring sunscreen next time) and shooting photos. Looking at these again, I really need a widebody Fox Mustang in my life.
With Friday in the can, James and I drove over to the Grissom Air Museum to hang out, check out a few planes, and watch Days of Thunder projected on to the side of a trailer. You know, the usual Friday night stuff.
After that, some shuteye and mental preparation for the big event: Saturday.
Saturday was a beautiful day for racing, with everyone on site and ready to go at 7 AM.
I even spotted two people whose names might be familiar to any long time readers.
Yes, both Rodney and Suzy spent a good amount of time sideways that weekend.
When a vehicle running 275mm wide tires is considered a “Small tire” car, you know there’s some serious rubber out there.
While Saturday did feature serious competition in all of the classes, the beauty of an SCCA event like this is that it’s welcoming to everyone, including newcomers not only to the event, but to SCCA solo competition in general.
You don’t have to take my word for it, you can hear it from a fellow BangShifter reader, first time autocrosser, and Sharknado aficionado, James Bishir:
I knew I was putting down my best run of the day. Advice I was given by fellow drivers was echoing in the back of my mind. “Break earlier than you think and carry as much speed as you can through the turns . . . be smooth,” which was shared by fellow G-Body driver Lance Hamilton helped me in a turn I was badly overdriving the day before. “Keep moving your eyes forward and try to not watch the cones directly in front of you,” helped me navigate a section of the course more confidently than before thanks to advice from Mary Pozzi. As I accelerated through the finish I heard Mary Pozzi (who was also announcing at the time) shout “WOW”, I noticed people I had met for the first time hours ago start clapping, and I received a few through the window helmet slaps on the way back to grid. I felt like I had won the Indy 500 and all that was missing was a quart of milk.
How did I get there? It started when I saw my first autocross a few years ago on the Hot Rod Powertour and Ridetech was a sponsor. Not only was I impressed with the cars and products, but it looked like the most fun I could afford on four wheels. I started watching with anticipation the streaming coverage of events such as the Midwest Muscle Car Challenge which was streamed here on Bangshift a few years ago. I lurked on threads, and listened to podcasts from pro-touring.com while I was wrenching, and I slowly accumulated the parts I wanted since my full time job as a teacher requires quite a bit of budgetary constraint. Many cars competing have a massive amount of money invested in them, and I thought I NEEDED very expensive brakes, chassis parts, and engine upgrades to have fun and compete.
What I discovered most this weekend is that I’ve been missing the boat. The most important upgrade you can make to your car is YOU! You need seat time even if that results in you mowing over cones in your beater and oil soaking a grid spot next to Al Unser Jr and Kyle Tucker.
Which reminds me of the best part.
Those extremely successful people in the sport that I’ve been watching on TV and listening to on podcasts are racing with you, and they are most shockingly, very willing to help you. I’m not kidding, in fact, I’m proof. Mary ‘freakin’ Pozzi discovered my n00B status and took me on a private course walk before the event. Kyle Tucker offered free tire pressure advice on my BFG Rivals and generously shared some more during a course walk on Day 2. I tried to absorb this manna from heaven as I was about to feast on this course my first run.
Feast meet famine. My first run was a disaster. All that golden advice I applied to my best run might as well been spoken in Charlie Brown’s teacher’s voice. It started as my butt cheeks clinched when Robby Unser gave me the go signal. I was already through the first two turns before I stopped thinking, “whoa ‘the’ Robbie Unser is starting cars. Lack of focus, A.D.D., and all that advice going ‘wah wah’ in the back of my head resulted in three badly mangled cones and my taillights facing the wrong direction. Yes, my first run was everything I didn’t want to happen, but I had a mile-wide grin when pulling back into grid.
“You got that spin out of the way early,” said Dave Dusterburg Indy Region SCCA Executive. Slightly embarrassed but determined to do better, I focused and applied all of those free words of advice during my later runs. Times steadily improved by nearly a second each run as people noticed the improvement, and words of encouragement kept flowing like beer and jokes when fellow racers gathered each night to watch racing movies. “If you ain’t first, you’re last!” said by Dave Nutting many times to me during the event thanks to Talledega Nights being shown one night.
This community of racers made my first event truly special. So special in fact that why when I dipped under 50 seconds for the first time of the day and into respectable territory it felt like I had won the Indy 500 because of the admiration of my peers. However, I didn’t win anything at the event. In fact, my fastest run was nearly last, but I won some new friends and a great new hobby. Besides as I told Dave after his Talladega Nights quip, “there are many positions . . . 2nd, 3rd, 4th, heck you can even be 47th!
Well, 47th would have been an improvement for me, as I just couldn’t get my head right on Saturday, with my only clean runs in the 52 second range, good enough for 60th out of 64th in CAM-C. Guess that’s why I’m the photographer, right?
While my 245-wide BFG Sport Comp 2s were trying as hard as they could, the car was still pushing badly, leaving me with some seriously cupped front tires at the end of that day.
My less than impressive results notwithstanding, there were some seriously kickass cars duking it out in the CAM-T class, which in my opinion is really where the CAM class shines.
Trust me, watching that for several hours beats sitting at a car show any day of the week.
As mentioned earlier, Sam Strano took 1st place in CAM-C, while “the kid”, AKA Cody Mason, bested Kyle Tucker in his own car to take first place in CAM-T with over a full second gap between the two.
Saturday finished up with a dinner courtesy of Ridetech, during which time I took a few months to sneak in some photos of the G-body Crew, which consisted of Andrew Scott, Lance Hamilton, myself, and James Bishir. Yes, that’s a prison behind us, which seems a fitting for a bunch of goons like us.
Sunday Shootout and Final Thoughts
With Sunday came the threat of rain, but that didn’t stop the majority of competitors from showing up for the CAM Shootout. While Saturday consisted of six runs, with your best run from the morning and afternoon sessions added together to give you your final score, all of this was wiped clean for Sunday: Each driver got three runs, with the top 16 cars from each class going head to head in knockout rounds, with the top CAM-C, CAM-T, and CAM-S cars vying for overall 1st, 2nd, and 3rd.
While I did improve over Saturday thanks to some driving tips from a few of the other drivers, my 51.5xx wasn’t good enough to make the top 16 for CAM-C. That said, here’s a video of my best run to give you an idea of the course that we were running for the weekend:
Compared to the courses I normally run at the New England Region SCCA events, this course was much more open, perfect for larger cars and allowing for those with more horsepower to stretch their legs. That 180 degree sweeper in the middle of the course is a heartbreaker, as if you enter it too hot you end up pushing to the outside and losing time. Definitely a learning experience that I hope to carry forward.
With my car relegated to the paddock, it was back to taking photos for the rest of the afternoon, which got a bit wet and wild towards the end. Rumor has it that the Speedway Camaro hadn’t been raced in the rain up until this point; that sure didn’t stop Al Unser Jr from ripping it around the course, just short of Strano and his more modern F-body.
Just in case you need more convincing to attend your nearest CAM event, here’s another blast of photos from the Sunday shootout:
With Sunday’s time in the books and the rain coming down, it was time to call it quits. Monday morning brought another 4 AM start time for my journey home, which gave me another 14 hours to get some quality time with my car and think about how I couldn’t wait for next year.
Having had a few weeks to think it over, CAM Challenge East and the SCCA CAM class in general aren’t perfect: There’s still some contention over the CAM-C class and the year cutoff as well as the exclusion of C4 and newer Corvettes. That said, the class is the closest muscle car owners like you and I have to a “run what you brung” playground, and it’s only going to get better with participation from people like you and me. SCCA Solo’s season isn’t over yet, so it’s not too late to find your nearest SCCA chapter, sign up for a weekend membership, and see what you and your car can do. Trust me, you won’t be disappointed.
Oh, and don’t be scared of driving your car to the event. It’s worth it.