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Ryan Upham TeamWin Racing Mitsubishi Evolution VIII MR - Race Car Driving | Racing The Right Way

A tale of a racer trying to live out a lifelong dream

Apr 22, 2013
1303 modp 01 o+racing the right way+in motion Photo 1/10   |   Ryan Upham TeamWin Racing Mitsubishi Evolution VIII MR - Race Car Driving | Racing The Right Way

From the age of 4, all I ever wanted to do was become a race car driver. I drew pictures, collected cars, and read about races and cars in magazines like this very publication. I got into cars, got into trouble with the law a few times, and then finally got into organized racing.

1303 modp 03 o+racing the right way+ryan upham Photo 2/10   |   Ryan Upham TeamWin Racing Mitsubishi Evolution VIII MR - Race Car Driving | Racing The Right Way

The car I campaign is the TeamWIN racing Evo 8 MR. Bought as a street car many years ago, it has slowly turned into the car you see here. After five years and 15,000 miles of on-track driving, I made the decision to turn my time attack/time trials Evo into a paint-rubbing, tire-wall-bouncing, pole-setting machine.

My organization of choice was NASA and the Super Touring series. This, in my opinion, is the most exciting series NASA has to offer. It has three classifications: Super Touring 1, 2, and Unlimited. The classifications are separated by power-to-weight ratios. ST1 is 5.5 to 1, ST2 is 8.7 to 1, and SU is just as it sounds: unlimited. The series is also made up of any and all production-based vehicles with no real constraints other than tube frame style chassis modifications and active aero. That leaves the imagination as wide open as your pockets are deep, and the race cars are some of the most exciting to watch in the organization.

For this form of road racing, my Evo's setup had to be perfect. It had to be able to hang with anything from Mustangs and Corvettes to Lotuses and, well, anything else you can imagine. The Super Touring field is restricted by horsepower, but torque is left wide open, so that is where my build really took focus. I turn to the guys at THMotorsports for almost all the parts that make the TeamWIN Evo what it is today. They outfitted the car with all the right parts to make power consistent and torque enormous. Kelford 264/260 cams, an FP White turbo, and a Grimmspeed three-port boost control solenoid all help to make gobs of low-end torque. Chris black from AMS worked his magic to achieve 325 awhp on a Mustang dyno and a healthy 386 lb-ft of torque.

1303 modp 10 o+racing the right way+mulitple vehicles Photo 3/10   |   Ryan Upham TeamWin Racing Mitsubishi Evolution VIII MR - Race Car Driving | Racing The Right Way

The TeamWIN racing Evo had the power, and now it had to turn. I went through multiple suspension modifications and setups over the last five years, and the end result was a compilation of Whiteline custom spherical bearings and Ohlins coilovers. Now I needed a tire to utilize all these mods, and for that I turned to Goodyear. For every race, the car is outfitted with a set of Goodyear Racing's Special line of DOT racing slicks.

1303 modp 08 o+racing the right way+front view Photo 4/10   |   Ryan Upham TeamWin Racing Mitsubishi Evolution VIII MR - Race Car Driving | Racing The Right Way

My first season came and went, and the car was fast-podium finishes at every race. I landed NASA Midwest rookie of the year, a Second Place finish at the '11 NASA nationals, although due to a controversial disqualification, the finishing place was taken from me, and a Third Place overall finish in the '11 points standings. For 2012, the racing picked up as did the competitors. Although this is grassroots racing, you would swear you are in the pits at a Grand Am race. With multiple car haulers, pit crews, and all the latest in data acquisition, the cars and teams came to win. I didn't show up to lose, and with some great sponsors, we were set to do battle at the famous Mid-Ohio sports car complex.

For the weekend we would be racing at full capacity, NASA would be hosting three separate races with combined car classes and a 60-race-car count in each group. It was going to be hectic.

1303 modp 04 o+racing the right way+racing Photo 5/10   |   Ryan Upham TeamWin Racing Mitsubishi Evolution VIII MR - Race Car Driving | Racing The Right Way

We arrived a day early to set up our paddock spot, something commonly left out in stories but this is pretty important. When you're not on track, you are in the paddock, and when you don't set yourself up with a good place to wrench and prepare yourself, things that seem to find a way of going wrong always end up worse. And as much as I'd love a team of mechanics by my side when it comes to getting it done at the track, 90 percent of the time I am a one-man army.

1303 modp 09 o+racing the right way+tire torque Photo 6/10   |   Ryan Upham TeamWin Racing Mitsubishi Evolution VIII MR - Race Car Driving | Racing The Right Way

Race Day! We show up to the track and my plans for dry weather were a little off, as it is pouring. As some time passes, the track looks to be drying up, as cars have been clearing the wetness off the asphalt, so my friend and I decide to roll the dice and keep the slicks mounted for qualifying. Once on track, it is apparent the slicks were a bad idea, as all four wheels spin with little hesitation.

Qualifying was a bust. I was in the back-not all the way in the rear, but we are talking in the 40s out of 60 cars. Mid-Ohio is a tough track for passing; there are many tight turns and constant elevation changes making it difficult to find space to pass. I should mention that I opted for rain slicks, and this time it was a good choice, as the rain really started to come down. As the race progressed, I was mixed up with some of the slower cars in the session and was continually finding myself fighting it out with mustangs and Camaros to gain position. The wet line was a must, and anything off that or remotely near the dry line was like ice. Coming out of turn two aka the keyhole, I had a good run on a small group of Mustangs from the America Iron series. As I got closer to their pack, visibility got worse and worse. At this point, it was all or nothing; hit the hooks now and stay behind the pack or get off line and make the pass on the three 'Stangs coming out of the kink leading into a hard right at turn four into China beach. We headed into the kink, and the Mustangs predictably stayed on the wet line where what little traction there was could be had. I tracked inside, and the car instantly got loose. I knew not to let off, so I kept the throttle pinned and loosened my grip on the steering wheel, as I could feel the car slide around through my hands. I knew I couldn't back off now; I had to keep hard on and make my way back to the wet line before corner entrance at turn four. I also knew if I backed off and hit the brakes on the dry line, the Evo, despite its AWD advantage, would risk a nasty hydroplane putting me anywhere other than the track surface. I stuck to the plan and made it back over to the wet line. The pass was clean-maybe a little forced, but well executed nonetheless. The rest of the session was much of the same, but I ended up in Sixth, which meant I had a good chance of upsetting the field in the next race if I got a good/aggressive/clean start.

1303 modp 05 o+racing the right way+on track Photo 7/10   |   Ryan Upham TeamWin Racing Mitsubishi Evolution VIII MR - Race Car Driving | Racing The Right Way

The afternoon passed, as did the rain. We got on grid, and the track was dry, so I was eager to push the Evo to its limits. The 60-car field entered the track in grid formation for a warm-up lap, so it was time to put some heat in the tires and check the track conditions. The pace was set at around 60 mph. In a two-car formation, I was in P6 on the left side. To my right was a radical SR8, evidence that I was not the only car whose qualifying performance was hindered by the rainy weather. Rolling through the corners, I was focusing on where the grip was and how much I could push not only myself and the car but also my competitors and theirs. We are all on track in different cars with different strategies, but what we all have in common is our goal of that P1 podium spot. I am known to be a little aggressive on race starts, sometimes pushing the limits of adhesion and entering that first corner sideways. A little drift into T1 is as great for the fans as it is for bullying the cars around me. Mid-Ohio, unlike many other tracks, starts its races on the back straight between corners two and three, which means we take the slight kink flat out.

1303 modp 07 o+racing the right way+driver Photo 8/10   |   Ryan Upham TeamWin Racing Mitsubishi Evolution VIII MR - Race Car Driving | Racing The Right Way

The cars stack up and the speed drops, and we all make the turn together leading out of the keyhole. Exhausts backfire, as much of the field drops into Second for a better jump at the start. The pace car pulls off, and the field slightly lurches that much more forward, now nose to tail. The flag drops and the pack comes alive. The much faster cars pull ahead but are halted as a few of the slower cars that out-qualified them are not fast enough and hold them at bay. Turn three is upon us, and little to no position change is made. I try to shoot inside, but the ever-quicker and late-braking radical puts a stop on the plan. I hold my outside line and am all over a NASCAR taking the uphill left into T5. I get a better run on the exit of T5, as it rolls downhill and the NASCAR as well as the radical are struggling for grip. I plan to shoot ahead of the radical and to the right of the NASCAR going into T6, which is a rather high-speed right at the top of Third gear. I make my move, and within a second, there is a cloud of oily smoke. The NASCAR is now in a 90-degree slide after running through the oil from his blown motor. At this point, the radical and I are in driving through the oil. I track far left, and the radical is headed for the NASCAR. He just misses him head-on but still graces the side putting the radical into a spin. I find myself now tracking way left and without any grip. I touch the grass and it feels as if the car picks up speed. Now sliding at an accelerated pace, I see the wall I'm about to hit. It's all in slow motion. I wait for contact. The radical is spinning relentlessly on track, and the NASCAR has taken one more car off track. What seems like forever is a span of five seconds. Impact happens and the tire wall does little to shed any speed. I bounce off and am headed for a thin strip of gravel, keeping the Evo as straight as I can in an attempt to not get it sideways and risk rolling myself into the inevitable wall in front of me. Once again it seems as if no speed is shed and I desperately flick the car 90 degrees to take a side impact and hope to prevent total loss on my race car. Impact happens, and the back of the car becomes airborne. All the forward inertia has to go somewhere, and that somewhere is up. I am looking down now at the ground through my windshield hoping I don't end up on the roof. My 'cage was a great investment, but I never wanted to test it. The back end drops, the car shuts off, and I instantly hit my kill switch. Fighting to get out of the car as fast as I can, I look to my left to see 54 cars coming what seems like at me as they dance through the oil and debris. My race ends right there. The weekend is over, and for those 30 seconds, I think the Evo is, too.

1303 modp 06 o+racing the right way+tire wall Photo 9/10   |   Ryan Upham TeamWin Racing Mitsubishi Evolution VIII MR - Race Car Driving | Racing The Right Way

After the race, I drive the Evo and can't believe it but the car is fine. A mess of cosmetic damage is the only real casualty. The drive home is a long one. Little is said between my friend and me as I reflect on the accident. I also think about all the highs and lows, the wins and losses from years past. An age-old saying comes to mind, "It doesn't matter if you win or lose, it's how you play the game." I realize that saying rings very true in racing. I have spent blood, sweat, and tears on this car and my dream, not to mention more money than I would like to admit. I have accomplished what I set out to do at the early age of 4, every picture drawn, every car collected, and every magazine read led to this. So with that, "It doesn't matter if you win or lose, it's if you play the game."

1303 modp 02 o+racing the right way+evo 8 mr side frame Photo 10/10   |   Ryan Upham TeamWin Racing Mitsubishi Evolution VIII MR - Race Car Driving | Racing The Right Way

What seems like forever is a span of five seconds. Impact happens and the tire wall does little to shed any speed.

Special thanks to my sponsors: TeamWINracing.com, THMotorsports, Goodyear tires, AMS performance, DHP composites, and Girodisc.

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