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It’s Only One Lap

The MAX Staff is Invited to Race Across the States in Eibach’s 300Hp Turbocharged 2000 MAXima

MAX Staff
May 1, 2000
Photographer: Larry Matlin

Somehow, someone in Eibach’s marketing department must have temporarily taken leave of his senses. They thought it would be a good idea to invite one of the MAX staffers along as they tackle this year’s Michelin One Lap of America in Eibach’s turbocharged Maxima. In case you don’t know, the One Lap is a legalized offspring of the famed Cannonball Run.

We actually sponsored Jeremy Keppler and Larry Matlin last year (Which means we gave them some stickers and told them to bring us back a story.—MAX). For this year’s edition, we’re actually going to be driving. By the time you read this, it will be too late to save the Eibach crew. Obviously, they’ve never been on road trip with us (imagine Dumb and Dumber but dumber), nor have they seen us on the track (picture tire smoke and shrieks of terror).

If the Eibach crew doesn’t kick us out of the car after the first day, we should have a great story for you. In the meantime, check out some interesting tidbits describing last year’s madness ripped directly from Jeremy’s diary.

The ’99 One Lap
The month of May: the time of year when most people think about watching The Derby or the Indy 500 and get ready for the summer. Or, if you are slightly warped and like spending a lot of time in a cramped car, it is also the time for the Michelin One Lap of America. As the event organizer, Brock Yates likes to call it, “A full racing season in one week.” For those of you not familiar with that name, he is the man that created the infamous Cannonball Baker Sea-to-Shining-Sea Memorial Trophy Dash, a.k.a., the Cannonball Run. In case you’re wondering, he also wrote the script for the movie of the same name.

The Ride
In 1999, we entered our car, a ’96 Nissan 200SX SE-R, and knew it needed some changes to be competitive. We contacted both Stillen and Jim Wolf Technology for help. JWT helped by recommending its reprogrammed ECU, which increased our rev limiter from 7,200 rpm to 7,700, removed the 110mph governor, and provided quicker throttle response. Stillen suggested its front and rear strut tower bars to stiffen the chassis and camber plates for the front wheels, which is essential for proper setup for track situations. Stopping power was increased with a set of braided stainless steel brake lines, high-temp brake fluid, and Carbotech Panther pads.

Even with these modifications, we still wanted some more horsepower. After consulting SE-R.net, a call to Hotshot Performance was made, and a new header was sent out. This was single handedly the biggest horsepower gain. We also installed underdrive pulleys from Unorthodox Racing.

To finish off the suspension, a coilover kit from Ground Control with adjustable struts/shocks from GAB Sports was installed. The last thing to go in were front and rear sway bars from Suspension Techniques. TSW contributed to the effort in the form of 16x7 Revo wheels with 205/45R16 Michelin Pilot MXX3s all around. With the One Lap, most of the driving between tracks is done overnight, so we knew that good lighting was a must. Fet, the maker of Catz Lights, helped by sending a set of MSX foglights and SR driving lights, both of which were fitted with 85-watt bulbs. Since we would be driving close to 5,000 miles in one week, having good tunes in the car was a priority. Pioneer helped out with a DEH-6000 head unit, complete with built in CD player.

Rollin’ Rollin’ Rollin’
Once all of this was installed and set up properly, it was time to pack up and hit the road with my co-driver and slightly warped compatriot Larry Matlin. The two of us have run in the last two editions of the One Lap, so we knew what we were getting into: a one-week experiment in sleep deprivation, bad food, and very few bathing opportunities. The redeeming qualities are the opportunity to drive on some great racetracks, spending a week with fellow car nuts in some pretty cool rides, and seeing some old friends from our previous endeavors. The following is a brief diary of our trip.

May 15, 1999 After driving all night, we checked into the hotel at 6:30 a.m., slept for a few hours, then registered. When we awoke a few hours later, the parking lot was a car nut’s dream! Porsches, Corvettes, Vipers, BMWs, and other exotic (and some not so exotic) machinery were going through tech inspection. A BMW 318ti with a 330ti badge caught our attention. It was outfitted with a 450hp turbocharged European M3 engine. Owner Catesby Jones and co-driver Peter Klein entered with the intent for a Top 10 finish overall. Their intent was more then met, as they came in Third Place with a First in class.

May 16 We arrived at Michigan International Speedway at about 3:30 p.m. and completely unpacked the car, including the trunk carpeting. After changing into my driver suit, all I could do was sweat until our group was called. Since we had car no. 95, we had a long wait before being sent out on the track. MIS is a very fast track, and we knew we were in trouble with its long straight.

I was hoping we could move up into the 60s after this event. When we left MIS, we were in 67th Place overall. Not bad, I thought, but we had our sights set on a Neon ACR in our class, and that team was ahead by 15 spots. The ACR was squeezing nitrous, and this was just what the doctor ordered for Michigan’s long straights.

We figured it would be a boring drive through the Midwest to our next destination, Heartland Park in Topeka, Kansas, but it turned out to be anything but. At around 11:30 p.m., as we were driving through western Iowa, a tremendous thunderstorm hit. We didn’t know it at the time, but the thunderstorm was actually a tornado! Several teams even saw the funnel of it in the lightning flashes. Fortunately, all of the One Lappers made it through tornado alley without any problems.

May 17 The route book called for a stop at Holmes Radiator at about 3:00 a.m., which was a nice break for coffee and donuts. The employees and their families were all there to cheer us on, wash windshields, and give us that little boost we needed in the wee hours. Our thanks and appreciation goes out to all of those who were there for us with their help and kindness in the middle of the night.

We arrived at Heartland Park at about 6:00 a.m. Both Larry and I fell asleep in the car for a couple of hours. When we woke up, we found the track was slick in spots, but especially treacherous was the last left turn coming onto the straightaway, which was part of the drag strip. The transition was covered in rubber and water, which made for a surface that had all of the traction of a Crisco-coated Teflon pan. Watching the early cars head out for their timed runs was a wake up call. One of the leading Mallett Corvettes spun off and got stuck in the mud, while many competitors were getting sideways when they tried to accelerate on the slick dragstrip straight.

Finally, my turn came up, and I decided to play it conservatively and make sure we kept the car on the track, which we did successfully for a 52nd place overall. We felt this was very respectable, and we even beat our Neon nemesis after they spun out on their run.

May 18 One Lap wouldn’t be as exciting without the cops, and sure enough, about an hour outside of Topeka, a Kansas State Trooper gave Larry a ticket. The rest of the drive was going pretty well when five miles from Colorado Springs, the battery light came on. Upon further inspection by Mike at the Texaco Station next door, we found the problem to be quite serious. One of the alternator bolts was sheared off. This was now putting our time trial at Pikes Peak in jeopardy. Mike got to work removing the alternator, drilled out the remainder of the bolt, and reinstalled the alternator in an hour. We owe Mike a cold one for his help and efficiency. We then hauled our butts the final 20 miles to Pikes Peak International Raceway in time for the race.

Since I had driven MIS and Heartland Park, Larry was to drive both events at PPIR. PPIR is another fast track that rewards horsepower, but again, we had a solid showing in both races with a 60th and 58th finish for the day. We hit the road to head to Texas World Speedway. This stretch of the drive was well populated with police once we crossed into Texas, and many competitors were hit up for a donation to the state coffers during this stretch. Supposedly, 30 teams had been stopped during the night.

May 19 We arrived at the track at 4:30 a.m. and decided that we would sleep here until the gate was opened for us. I didn’t want to be in the car any longer and promptly grabbed a tarp and sleeping bag and slept on the road between my car and a 3-Series. Larry casually mentioned that this might be a bad idea since the BMW guys might not see me and squish me before I woke up. It was a risk I was willing to take.

Getting squished ended up being a moot point when Glenn Dodd parked his Chevy Blazer/ ’Vette hybrid about two feet from my head while I slept. Glenn fired up the beast a few hours later, which scared me to death. If you haven’t used a worked 350 Chevy to help you wake up before, I can personally vouch that it is much more effective than a standard alarm clock. Once we were inside the track, we unpacked, grabbed some breakfast, and checked out the facility. We were to run two configurations, a 1.9-mile road course and the 2.9-mile road course. Larry would drive the short track, and I was to drive the long. For the first session, Larry gridded behind a 325i, which we didn’t think would be a problem. The Bimmer handles well and should have been fast enough to stay out of the way. Were we ever wrong. Larry caught the guy on the first lap, but couldn’t find a place to pass immediately. This cost us a lot of time and resulted in a 78th Place finish.

In the afternoon session, I was determined to avoid this problem and gridded with a much faster run group behind a slant-nose Porsche. We were sent out for our reconnaissance lap of the course and coming around a banked decreasing radius 180 left-hander, I spun off the track and demonstrated my great skills as a Nissan lawnmower driver. During the actual time trial, I was flying, and by the beginning of the second lap, I was right on the Porsche. I couldn’t get around though because he would pull me on the long straightaway. But once we were on the infield section, I was right on him again. This was one of my best runs with a 54th Place finish, and I beat the Neon, which wasn’t able to run the nitrous. We packed up again—which at this point, we had down to a science—and headed to Memphis, Tennessee.

May 20 Just outside of Memphis, we caught up to the Lamborghini Diablo of Bob Mazzacula and professional driver Shane Lewis. I rolled down the windows and turned off the stereo to listen to the beautiful sounds of the Lambo’s V-12 as we motored through Memphis. We awoke the next morning well rested and headed to Memphis International Raceway, where we would be doing a time trial and drag race. When we arrived, we found out that we would be running two time trials to make up for the one cancelled at Heartland Park. Larry went out first and proceeded to demonstrate what oversteer is. One section of the track had a sharp 90-degree left immediately followed by a slow 90-degree right. Larry came in hot and completely buried the front tires in order to make the turn. I didn’t mind until we inspected the front left tire; the outside edge and shoulder had literally been ground smooth. Other than that, Larry had a strong run, finishing 54th. I drove the next session and was 8/10 of a second slower to put us in 60th Place. Not bad, but I was hoping to do a little better.

In preparation for the drag race, we dropped the pressure in the front tires to 26 psi to help gain some bite on the strip. We gridded and ran a 15.97 in the quarter, which I felt was pretty good considering we spun the wheels off the line through most of First gear. I red lighted in the bracket heat, ending any chances of glory in the quarter-mile. Thankfully, the drag races aren’t worth a lot of points, and the worst place you can end up is in Eighth Place overall. After a mandatory visit to Graceland to pay homage to the King, we headed out to Road Atlanta.

May 21 After a good night’s rest, we arrived at the track and promptly received a fair amount of attention as both Larry and I were wearing Elvis work shirts. From that point on, we were referred to as the driving Elvi. We discovered Road Atlanta was a track that can bite you in the butt if you are not careful.

Before the time trials began, instructors from the Road Atlanta Panoz driving school took all of us out in the school vans to show us the proper line. It is a fast course with several blind corners and short runoff areas in a few places where concrete tire walls are the obstacle du jour. Several people learned firsthand that concrete tire barriers don’t give very much when contact is made at speed.

Larry was the first to drive at Road Atlanta and had a clean run to place 53rd in the morning session. He gave me some tips to the track and kept stressing that I take turn three slowly. “Turn and be prepared to brake early,” Larry said. “If you see the skid marks, it’s too late to brake.” I discovered this on the first lap at speed. As I approached turn three, I was thinking, brake, brake, brake. But not wanting to slow down too early, I waited too long, saw the skidmarks and knew I was in trouble. I executed a full 540 going backwards off the track into the grass and kicking up an enormous cloud of dust. The spin hurt us, and we ended up in 67th for the second time trial. I was angry at myself for the poor performance, but we were still within striking distance of finishing in the top half overall.

May 22 The drive from Road Atlanta to Michigan was long and the place where my partner hit the proverbial wall regarding lack of sleep for the week. I woke up at one point in a rest area and asked Larry why we stopped. His response was, “I’m tired and can’t drive, and I don’t care anymore.”

I felt pretty good after a couple hours of rest so I said I’d drive. I then asked Larry where we were so I could follow the route book. Larry’s reply was not printable in a family magazine. I drove the rest of the way to Michigan for a total of 750 of the 900 miles we drove that day and night.

We arrived at Waterford Hills in the rain and took a walk around the track. It is similar to a fast autocross course, and we felt this would give us a chance to place well. The big guys went out first, and since the track was very wet, they couldn’t get the power down and had to tip toe around to prevent any off track excursions. As the morning wore on, the track dried out, and by the time I ran the first time trial, the track was almost completely dry. I managed to pull off a clean run and ended up 20th overall in the first session. I could now claim that I beat a Diablo, several Vipers, and a gaggle of Corvettes. We were pumped. A top-half finish overall is a real possibility, we thought.

The second session went well, but by now, the track was dry, and the big boys were able to rip it up. Larry went out and I could hear him all the way around the track as he was sliding the car, wringing as much as he could out of it.

Larry finished in 41st Place, and we ended up in 52nd overall out of 102 entries. In fact, we were the best placing four cylinder (without NOS or a turbo) and 13th out of 19 cars in GT2, meaning we were able to show our taillights to several Mustangs and Camaros; a very good showing for the 200SX SE-R. We didn’t have any reliability problems other than the sheared alternator bolt, and compared to some of the nightmares our fellow competitors encountered, ours was mild.

Final Thoughts After completing our third One Lap, we have learned that the competition keeps getting better and better each year. Horsepower is king. And expect the unexpected because it will happen at some point during the week.

The best part about the event is the people you meet. The backgrounds of the entrants are diverse, from someone as mild as a dentist to someone a little more wild like an adult film star. Everyone gets along great and has a common bond: a love for the automobile. It is an event where a driver will give you tips on proper track lines, even if you are in direct competition with him. This is not something that happens in most competitive circles!

We’ll be back next year, hopefully with more horsepower to be more competitive. But most of all, we will be back to have fun and make new friends in a very unique event.

—Jeremy Keppler

By MAX Staff
8 Articles

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