February 2, 2023

CAM at Honda Challenge: Day 1

The NASA Honda Challenge has already been decided. If you’re looking for the results they’ll be found elsewhere. This is not about the race, or the results. This is about what it takes to be in the race. The championship race took place on a Saturday afternoon, but the people you are about to read about had been sleeping in a trailer under the grandstands at Miller Motorsports Park since Tuesday. I had no idea how intense, frantic, amazing, and disappointing a ninety-six hour period could be and I’m sure most of you have no idea also. So please allow Kris McCoy, Randy Gibb, Jason Smith, Eric Smart, Mauricio, Fernando, and Crew Chief Eric show you what went on during this particular week of racing.

Kris’s car was in pieces when I arrived. It was NASA Nationals, and Kris McCoy and Randy Gibb had their Acura RSX Type-S’s in the Honda Challenge. They had pulled the wiring harness and were rebuilding it. The wheels, tires and hood were off of the camouflage RSX. It was an “all hands on deck” situation, and everyone (including your fearless writer/photographer) got their hands dirty getting Kris out to the afternoon practice session… (Click ‘Continue Reading’ below)

I got to the track at exactly a little before 1PM. I didn’t have a media pass because Jason, of Innovative Garage, and Eric, owner of the silver Civic coupe in the “Odd Couple” article, missed the deadline for applying for credentials. At least they tried. Instead I got a pit pass, which allowed me to wander around the paddock. I was disappointed I couldn’t shoot track-side, but my disappointment fled as soon as I saw what was occupying the paddock.

Every race series NASA sanctions was there: Spec Miata, American Iron, Legends, Factory Five, Time Trial, everything. It was amazing. I was ecstatic…and lost. The paddock had never been as full as it was that week, at least never that full anytime I was there. I drove around, lost and mouth agape. I was looking for a parking spot somewhat close to the guys’ pit area. I had no clue where that was, so I parked at the first spot I found and began walking west. And at exactly 1:11PM I found them.

After saying hi to Randy I was introduced to Crew Chief Eric and Mauricio. During the introductions Kris pulled up in his Rhino, grabbed Randy and the two of them headed off to tech inspection while I began to document the madness unfolding under the grandstands.

Randy’s car was fine, but Kris’s was under the knife at that point. Eric was furiously working on the wiring harness and injector plugs while Mauricio was working on the rear sway bar. Eric, with the help of Frank from Supremacy Racing, finished the harness and got to putting it back in the car. While that was going on Randy was putting the wheels on the car and Kris was helping Mauricio with the sway bar. The sway bar issue was handled, with the help of a Mikita drill, and a set of scales was placed beneath the car before it was lowered. Kris disappeared into the trailer to get changed for the session as Eric checked the corner balance of the car. Kris emerged from the trailer, climbed in and all that was left was to top off the oil and remove the to-do list from the windshield. Two tasks I failed at. First I grabbed the wrong funnel for the oil, but in my defense there were three and everyone kept yelling “the other funnel!” at me. Then Kris backed out of the pit, with the list still on the windshield. Instantly this became my fault. How I’m not sure. Kris made it to pre-grid, despite my incompetence. It was then time for the rest of us to pile into the Rhino and go watch and time Kris’s laps.

First we headed to the Grand Prix garages and Race Control to drop off Mauricio and Randy. Then Eric and I headed towards turn one. This is where Eric showed his disappointment with me, and tried to kill me by throwing me from the Rhino. Now, the entire time I’ve been with them my camera has been strapped to my right hand. Everything I’ve done has been done one handed, with my off hand. And now I’m hanging on for dear life as Eric tears through the paddock at 30mph, hanging the back end out on the loose gravel, just driving recklessly in an attempt to beat Kris’s car to the first turn.

Somehow I survive and get to shooting. Eric climbs into the shade of the stands and begins timing and talking with Kris to get a feel for how the car is behaving on the track. And as soon as it began it ends. We hop back in the Rhino, defy death, pick up the others and head back to the pit to break down the session. Well, they break down the session, I scurry off and start writing. Before I know it, it’s time for session number two. They scramble to get the car ready, but unfortunately they’re late in getting it out there. That translated into a hell ride out to turn one for Eric and I.

The car is better, but not where Kris wants it. The lap times are good, but not great. Kris is driving the hell out of the car, and this comes to a head when he runs off course after a lap in the 2:14 range. Thankfully nothing is damaged and the session comes to a mundane end.

After the session Eric, Kris and Mauricio go in search of a level surface so they can align and corner balance Kris’s car, which will hopefully alleviate some of the problems he’s having out on the track. Randy went off into the paddock on his bicycle, for reasons unknown to me, and I’m sitting here transcribing the day’s events. One of the last groups of the day is roaring down the 3500 foot long straightaway behind me, while crews work on their cars and begin packing up for the night in the fading light of the day. It’s been an eventful first day, to say the least. However, day two would prove to be just as interesting.

Words and Photos by Michael Chandler

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