Things happen in threes

By Jeffrey Fazio
DriveTime Columnist

I've never been much of a winner. That's not to say that I am loser. I'm the guy that is content to finish in second or third place while enjoying the best seat in the house to witness the winner at his finest.

It's not like I never win. As a matter of fact, I actually won two events last year. The first one was an autocross event that the only other car in my class had a new driver that had never raced before. My second win last year was at the Weatherly Hill Climb in Carbon County where I was the only driver in my class. I gave myself a serious run for the money all the way until my last run where I was finally able to beat myself. Hey, a win is a win. Right?

Anyway, when I go racing, my only tangible goal is to do better than the l ast time I was there. As long as I see improvements in my own times, I am quite content. Faster times are evidence that my driving is improving and that the hard work that has been put into my car has been fruitful.

That being said, I was quite astonished this year when I won my first big event, the Toyo Tires Import Survival Series 3 drag race at Raceway Park in Englishtown, N.J. on June 5. This win was a particular surprise since my car was not performing as well a s it normally does, but neither was anyone else's.

I made my way past the first round when a much faster car broke right after the launch. This allowed me to continue on to the semi-finals where I was up against another, significantly faster car. I managed to beat him off the line and gain a little bit of ground just as he missed his second-gear shift. His missed shift allowed me to put some serious distance between us, but that almost didn't matter since he was so much faster. He ended up passing me going 126 mph while I was strolling along at 116 mph. Lucky for me his pass came a few feet after the finish line.

In the final round I was unopposed. The driver I was supposed to race in the finals had broken his car on his last run so I got a bye run in the finals. I could not believe it. The win was handed to me, since there were no cars left to race me. The irony of all of this is that this event was the "Survival" of the Imports and I was the only one left with a car that has logged over 200,000 miles.

The following weekend I entered the Spring Weatherly Hill Climb. This was my favorite racing event yet. One of my best friends, Fabio Vlacci, was racing in my class with the same kind of car as I have, so the racing was extremely close. All day Saturday we were swapping the lead after each turn up the hill. Like two boxers exchanging blow for blow, we kept outdoing each other by hundredths of a second on every run. At the close of Saturday's runs, Fabio was ahead of me by almost half a second and I was at a loss as to where I could possibly go any faster.

Sunday morning I awakened to a broken transmission. Mysteriously overnight I lost fourth gear and reverse, which seemed to indicate the end of my race weekend. I couldn't even get the car out of the garage.

In the midst of pushing the car out of the garage, I had an epiphany ~ I only needed the first three gears for this hill climb. This sudden bolt of reasoning gave me that final push I needed to get the car out of the garage. I grabbed my helmet and headed back up to the event, shifting from third to fifth, skipping around fourth gear like it was a land mine.

When I got to the event, I had some serious thinking to do. I started visualizing the course, analyzing every curve and dissecting each straightaway. That is when I had the realization that I was doing an entire section of the course completely wrong and I saw a much faster way through. This revelation could not have been clearer if had been inspired by Master Yoda himself.

As it turned out, all of this mental exercising paid off and I managed to improve my time by more than a second. The time was fast enough to win the race and set a new hill record for my class.

They say things happen in threes and I have never loved that phrase as much as I did three weeks ago when I won the Pagoda Hill Climb. Somehow my mechanic managed to install a new transmission for me just in time for me to even make this event.

Although I had my transmission woes fixed, I was still dealing with less than optimal braking and I also had broken a piece of my suspension. Even with these obstacles, I managed to enjoy a safe event and put down another record-setting run.

Although winning three events in a row has been a wonderful experience, the best reward for me has been the growth I have had as a driver. Regardless of where I have finished at these events, I am most pleased by the fact that I have significantly improved my times from last year.