Meredydd Francke

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My first introduction to sports car racing came to me as a pre-teen girl when I read “The Red Car”, written by Don Stanford in 1954.  The SCCA was dragged into the story of a teenaged boy in Colorado who lusted after the MG TD that belonged to the rich kid in town.  I realized that this club was real, and as soon as I was grown and out on my own that became one ofmy first goals  – to find SCCA, which I later found was referred to as The Secret Car Club of America.

In 1965 I met a man whose daily driver was a Bugeye Sprite, and planned to race it.  I was bitten.  In 1966 I went to my first race ever, as a corner worker – and went to six races in the next nine weeks.  Fast forward a few years, and I met another young man who had a Porsche Super 90 Roadster, and he had a friend who decided to go to driver’s school in his Sprite.  I joined in the endeavor, sharing the car at a driver’sschool at Courtland, Alabama.  The weekend ended with the Sprite being rear-ended by the tow car on Sunday morning (don’t ask), and that was the end of my racing for several years.

By 1971 I was married to my husband, Ken, who also raced a Bugeye Sprite.  We moved to Florida, where he raced at Lakeland and Palm Beach International Raceway.  A few years later I attempted driver’s school again in our right-hand drive Bugeye. A not very fun weekend.  It started with laps in our instructor’s car – a showroom stock front-wheel drivecar, stuffed with the driver and three or four students in it.  He was determined to scare us all to death.  And he did.  It was not amusing.Then when I climbed into Ken’s car and did a couple of laps we found the rearview mirror wouldn’t hold its new position (it kept flopping down), and while up-shifting was no problem, I just couldn’t seem to find second gear on downshifts.  Arrrghhh.

I went back to corner working, tech inspection,registration, and a host of other activities.  Finally the time came when we could afford two race cars, so we bought 1964 Triumph TR4 in 1992 for me to run in Vintage.  My driver’s school instructor still runs a Vintage TR-3B, and his wife drove a Formula V at the time.  It turned out that we were almost neighbors, and we became fast friends. Mike is a great instructor who wants his students to learn how to race, not just how to go fast which isn’t necessarily the same thing.  This time driver’s school took, and there I was with my Novice Permit in my hot little hand.

A few years later we bought another Bugeye, this one left-hand drive, and I began racing in H Production as well as Vintage.

At that time there were very few H Production cars inregional racing in our area, so often I was the only car in my class out there, trundling around the track in a not very competitive car.  In 2000, our employer moved us to Connecticut which gave us the opportunity to see some new tracks – Watkins Glen, Mosport, New Hampshire International Raceway, Pocono, and Lime Rock.  Still I was generally the lone H Production car, although the Volvo Historics group drew massive fields of Vintage cars in the Northeast, and I was only one of several Triumphs.

Two years later we had made our way back south as far as Columbus, GA. We both ran at Roebling Road, Barber Motorsports Park and Sebring (boy was that a long way away for a weekend).  We sold the Triumph just before we left Connecticut, which was just as well because SCCA Vintage didn’t exist in Georgia at that time.

Almost exactly two years later, we were back in Florida – in Stuart, half an hour from Moroso and less than two hours from Sebring.  I literally got down on my hands andknees and kissed the ground, red ants and all.  As I started getting faster, Ken loaned me his engine – what a difference that made – 13 seconds a lap on the Sebring long course first time out.

There were still very few H Production cars at the regional level, but I was having a good time. Soon after, we started seeing more and more H Production cars, and Ken built me a 1275 limited prep engine while continuing to run a 948 full prep inhis car.  Suddenly I was getting competitive, and in 2009 I finished 2nd in the Division in the SARRCseries.  (wwwoooo-hooo)  My reward is going to be a real, professionally-built engine, which we hope to have in mid-summer. So far this year the most exciting event was the Jim Stark Double SARRC, where there were 13 H Production cars entered – several Sprites, a BMW, Honda, and a Volkswagen.

It’s been a been a long haul from always being last, to gradually becoming competitive and finishing well, but it’s been worth it – all the good times, good friends made, I wouldn’t trade it for the world.  Complete strangers will loan you tools and car parts, and give valuable advice, and of course we do the same.

We added a 1968 ITC Datsun 510 to the stable in 2008, which is now an SCCA Vintage car that we are slowly adding go-fast stuff to.  The previous owner just showered us with advice, and is still always ready to offer any information he can.

I always said I would never marry anyone who wasn’t involved in SCCA road racing – so it looks like Ken is stuck.  After all these years, this is still the best hobby in theworld.

UPDATE!

Dateline: July 4th Double SARRC at Roebling Road  – Savannah, GA

We set out for Roebling Road with high hopes; there was going to be a good field of H cars, the weather was predicted to be nice rather than the blast furnace temperatures and rain that can usually be expected in the Savannah area in July, and traffic on I-95 was relatively light.

On arrival we found a nice place to park and unloaded my red Sprite. Then Ken decided to re-position the Suburban, and found – oops! No brakes! We considered ourselves to be lucky, 20 minutes earlier we would have been on the road.

Our paddock neighbors were wonderful – they asked what was wrong, then volunteered to drive us to a couple of parts houses, and we finally found a new brake line that would fit.  Then they took us to our motel, waited while we changed clothes, and took us out to dinner, returning us afterwards, and then picked us up in the morning to go to the track.

Friday Ken bent the new brake line with a tool borrowed from Auto Zone, but found the connectors didn’t quite fit.  We were ready to throw in the towel, and have the car towed to a local shop we were familiar with.  A friend suggested before we call AAA and have the car towed, that we talk to a man who had some rental Miatas there, that he was a great guy who was always happy to help people if he could.  And he did – he had the newbrake line in place in just a few hours, and we were set for the weekend.  It’s sometimes hard to believe how helpful complete strangers can be at the track, even when they are busy concentrating on their own race.

Friday we qualified twice, once for Saturday and once for Sunday. First qualifying went well, although not as fast as I hoped.  The second qualifying was a little slower, so I knew I would have to run qualifying again on Saturday and Sunday.  Saturday was even slower, and every time Ken did a plug check after a session, the car would refuse to start – it just sat there and got hotter and hotter, almost 240 degrees before the water temp quit rising.  We got to know the tow truck driver very well in a short period of time (she was very good).

Poor Sprite was even slower during the Saturday race, although I did manage to hold off one of my competitors in a Honda CRX.  He was a lot faster before National added 275 pounds to his minimum weight.  We made the mistake of stopping in the hot pits for another plug check.  You’d think we could have figured out by now that it just wasn’t ever going to restart when the water temp was over 220. Met the tow truck driver once more, for the last time.

OK, the thing to do is change the head, as well as the radiator since it was leaking a little.  Fix things before they become a disaster, right.  After he removed  the head, Ken and a couple of friends stared at it – and one of them said, “I don’t think that’s the right headgasket for a 1275”.  What anunderstatement.  Somehow “we” (I say we, because it’s my car and I’m trying to be tactful) had used a 1098cchead gasket on a 1275cc limited prep engine.  And they don’t even have the same shape cylinders.

The transplant was asuccess, the patient lived and started right  up.  Off to the beer party, only to find all the food was gone, so we had some beer and conversation and figured it was time to go.  Ended up with take-out from Burger King, hadn’t had one of those in a while, certainly not in Savannah where great food is almost a religion.

Sunday morning qualifying went a little better, faster than Saturday but still slower than Friday morning, and well below my best times. Oh well, as they say, “Girls just like to have fun”, and I was determined I was going to have fun no matter what.  As we left the hot pits for the pace lap, my little Sprite exhibited more power than it had all weekend and I was encouraged, but also wondered why the steering seemed so heavy – I knew Ken had 20 pounds of air in my tires.

The pack tightened up nicely as we approached start/finish on the front straight, and I got a great start, zipping in front of a 240Z who had been gridded almost as far back as I was.  It was a super vantage point from which to see the huge dust cloud put up by a Lotus Super 7 and another Z car that came together in turn 1. We all gathered ourselves together again after the yellow flag dropped, and pounded down the track, me holding off my friend in the Honda.  And then… and then… ewwww – why did the front end want to come around every time I went through a right-hand turn?  This was not good.  After about two more laps of this wicked handling, I decided to point the Honda past, since I couldn’t keep up the necessary speed in three of the four right-hand turns.  Bummer.  It also meant I was getting lapped by everyone else in the field, and in the end was three laps down, but a finisher, 6th in class on Saturday and Sunday.

We packed up, had a copy of the provisional results handed to me by a fellow competitor, and got in line to exit the track and make the long drive home.  Next week we’ll examine the car and figure out what happened.

Tomorrow is another day…

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