My First Race Weekend

My path to the paddock for my first weekend of racing was far more complicated, convoluted, and painful than I ever imagined when I began it in early in 2017. That’s a tale for another place.

Through some haphazard combination of stubbornness, determination, grace, going with the flow, luck, and a boatload of help, I find myself pulling into the paddock of Pacific Raceways on June 30, 2022, having completed driver’s school a few months before and getting the race car to ‘ready enough’ state just the night before. I didn’t know where I was going, what to do, and had only briefly met one other small-bore racer, Stephen. He told me to ask to be directed to “The Newby Gang”, which sounded more like a group of old-west desperado bank-robbers than a group of racers.

I am pointed in a general direction and soon find said gang, who is toting more trailers than revolvers. I park, back the car out of the trailer, and head to the driver’s meeting for the test and tune session. I had my race school experience of course, but really don’t know how things work; what would be different, what would be the same, where to go for grid, where to go for registration, how the car would drive…other than track/driving theory and a general sense of the process of getting onto the track I knew nothing. So when the person conducting the driver’s meeting, Don Kitch, asked if there were any questions I said, “My name is Loren. I’m in the blue #12 Bugeye. I’ve never raced before and the car hasn’t raced in 36 years. Please keep an eye out for me and I apologize if I get in your way.”

Don replied, “See that folks, that’s a professional thing to do. We’ll look out for you, Loren.”

Another driver told me it was his first race weekend, too.

I feel good about this; it’s not a collection of people just raring to be first no matter what.

Unloaded at the track for the first time.

Back at the car time flies by and then I’m climbing in, sorting out how to get my HANS on, belts fastened, etc. The car, just ‘ready enough’, doesn’t like to start without ether, so I’m also trying not to stall it.

My first time on the track doesn’t last long. I get black-flagged for an oil leak. Back in the paddock I clean up and tighten up. I drive around the paddock a bit and it seems better. My second test and tune session ends the same: Black flagged for an oil leak. As I come off the exit worker notes a wheel wobble, too. All I’d been able to do before this is drive it around my suburban neighborhood at 25 MPH.

The Sprite Midget paddock is now full of drivers and cars and activity. When I roll back in early there is instantly a group of people I barely know (and some not at all) around me and the car. Their knowledge far beyond mine, they dive in.

Rod encouraging me before a test and tune session.

Asking for and accepting help has been and remains a challenge for me. I wasn’t expecting to be working on that little personal foible this weekend, and yet it really becomes a primary event. I watch and help and learn while the valve cover is swapped for one that fits better, the source of the wheel wobble is found and fixed, a leaking rear axle seal is replaced, timing is adjusted, the carbs are adjusted, and ultimately, the head comes off the engine and the gasket is replaced. It’s all hands on deck to get me and the car back on the track. Parts, knowledge, and elbow grease come from everywhere. At one point I noted to another driver, “This is really hard to for me to get this much help from all these people I hardly know.”

“It’s okay, this is how it is, just take a breath and accept it,” Brad replied. Deep breath in.

This is how we left it on the first day.
40+ year race veteran Bob shows me how to adjust the valves after replacing the head gasket.
Dave helping me adjust the carburetors.
Driving to grid for the first time.
Racing, after five years and an incredible amount of help.

In the end I got the car on the track for two of the six group races that weekend. It still wasn’t making correct power, but it wasn’t leaking, either. Saturday night there was a pot-luck meal in our paddock. People introduced themselves and gave a short bit of info about their racing history. At my turn I noted that I’d set a new track record that day…for blocking flags. Laughs all around.

As I drive home that Sunday afternoon, it’s clear that I hadn’t just realized a multi-year dream to get the car back into a race, but I’d found a new extended family as well. Kind, thoughtful, wise, helpful, friendly, enthusiastic, generous folks, all of them.

A rainy Sunday couldn’t dampen my spirits.

Loren Campbell
Issaquah, Washington

Footnote: At the Columbia River Classic race weekend later that year in Portland, a call went out in the paddock for a part. Miraculously, I had it. My car started and finished all six races that weekend, and yet the biggest highlight for me was that I was able to contribute something to help get another driver back on the track.