Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Crapcanalysis: Does fast matter? Part 3

The Freewheelin' Pikers' Saab 96 was the slowest car at The Ridge, but they still beat 11 other teams and won the Index of Effluency. (Murilee Martin photo)
At this point, we don't have much to add to our analysis from Part 1 and Part 2 of this series. Rather, we wanted to take a look at one particular race that defies the numbers: Pacific Northworst at The Ridge Motorsports Park in August 2012.

Here is the Overall Top 10 and where they ranked in fastest laps (out of 45 total entries):

Team Name Finishing Position Fastest Lap Rank Car Type
Team California Mille 1 21 Alfa GTV6
Flying Scotsmen II 2 26 BMW E30
Apex of Failure 3 3 Mazda RX-7
Dust n Debris 4 16 Plymouth Duster
Hurlingmoss 5 25 BMW 2002
Chainsaw Massacre 6 14 BMW E36
The Flying Lumberjacks 7 9 VW Fox
Mulligan Racing 8 13 Mazda RX-7
Petty Cash Racing 9 28 Jeep Cherokee
Oly Express 10 34 Plymouth Valiant

And here are the 10 fastest lap holders with their finishing positions:

Team Name Finishing Position Fastest Lap Rank Car Type
Gangrene Racing 16 1 Ford Mustang
FoMoCo LoCo's 19 2 Ford Mustang
Apex of Failure 3 3 Mazda RX-7
Autosport LabRats 31 4Merkur XR4Ti
Dan Gurney for President 29 5 Ford Mustang
Canadian Breakin' 38 6 Chevy Camaro
No Bronies Unicorn Ponies 11 7 Ford Mustang
Supramarket 12 8 Toyota Supra
The Flying Lumberjacks 7 9VW Fox
Garage Built Racing 36 10 Acura Integra

Notice there is almost no overlap. This completely puzzled us for a while. Thanks to some input from Team Petty Cash's Matt Adair, we did find out that the new circuit at The Ridge favors higher horsepower figures due to its very long front straight. This may explain how four Mustangs, a Camaro and a Supra ended up in the list of fastest laps.

Gangrene Racing's Ford Mustang put down the race's fastest lap by 1.5 seconds over the next-fastest car, but they only managed a 16th place finish. (Murilee Martin photo)

As has been parsed out many times before, however, American pony cars and just about anything made by Toyota struggle with reliability in crapcan racing. So while these cars remain capable of turning very fast laps, they inevitably lose ground in the overall standings because it's much harder to turn fast laps while on jackstands.

Maybe the small field of 45 cars has something to do with it, but the first-place and second-place cars overall ranked only mid-pack in terms of best lap times. Three more Top 10 teams were in the bottom half of the fastest laps rank and only two of the Top 10 teams also held one of the 10 fastest laps.

So what's going on here? Is this just an anomalous race through and through? Did the track have something to do with it?

Team California Mille took their very experienced Alfa Romeo to victory lane for the first time at The Ridge. (Murilee Martin photo)

Judge Phil once told us that tracks where cars spend lots of time at wide-open throttle (WOT) have a tendency to break more cars than the lower-speed, twistier circuits. We don't have a way of quantifying that, but feel free to give us some anecdotal evidence.

If Phil's assertion is true, it seems that cars more susceptible to failure at any race are at least as likely to fail--if not moreso--when spending more time at WOT. So poor results for a Merkur and a Camaro shouldn't be terribly shocking.

Apex of Failure's Mazda RX-7 was the only team to conform to our earlier findings that top-finishing LeMons cars are usually among the fastest at a given race? (Murilee Martin photo)

The sole car in the Top 10 that appeals to reason is Apex of Failure's veteran Mazda RX-7, which finished third with the third-fastest lap. We could say that the Flying Lumberjacks' ninth-place Volkswagen Fox does, as well, with a seventh-fastest lap, but a super-fast VW Fox makes us scratch our heads.  

But what explains the success of cars with slower lap times? Is this a case of very good teams with good drivers in horrendously slow vehicles? Are teams with slower cars more likely to push them less and survive better?

Check out this stupendous set of slow cars in the finishing order starting with P9:

P9 - Team Petty Cash (Jeep Cherokee), 28th fastest
P10 - Oly Express (Plymouth Valiant), 34th fastest
P11 - Soccer Moms (Dodge Caravan), 33rd fastest
P12 - Supra-Market (Toyota Supra), 8th fastest
P13 - Sponge Bobs Crackin Crabs (Acura Integra), 36th fastest

Petty Cash and the Soccer Moms are frequent outliers who lend some credence to the notion of very good teams with good drivers running slower cars, but that's perhaps anecdotal.

We could prattle on about this forever, but we'll stop here, having stared at the results sheet more than is healthy and having sufficiently numbed our brains in the process.

Team Petty Cash's Jeep Cherokee and King Henry V8th's Cadillac Seville re-enact the greatest moments of roadracing history with largesse and brawn. (Murilee Martin photo)

Mostly, we think this race raises more questions than it answers and we find it a quirk whose root we probably will never ferret out entirely.

We will, however, add that this may have the highest ratio of Never-Intended-For-Road-Racing to Total Entries of all time. The 45 entries included: Plymouth Duster, Volkswagen Fox, Jeep Cherokee, Plymouth Valiant, Dodge Caravan, Peugeot 505, two-cycle Mazda Miata, Plymouth Scamp, Austin Mini, '64 Volkswagen Beetle, Mercedes 300D, Saab 96 and a Cadillac Seville.

Keep the Pacific Northwest weird, indeed.

Want to look at the full results sheet? Have at it, because it's right here. Let us know if you crack the code.

That's all the crapcanalysis we have right now, but we're getting some great feedback and will take this data a little farther in the near future.

We may do a similar crapcanalysis with ChumpCar Wolrd Series results, but it will take some more time, given that ChumpCar runs so many more races per year.

* A small footnote that we absolutely love bringing up and linking every time this race is mentioned: Team Petty Cash lost a few positions when a Jeep pilota created what Judge Phil once described as a "very icky" scene. See the video here for those with a strong stomach.


  1. One factor you do not mention is pit stop times. I am captain of Team Oly Express in the 64 Valiant (well Barracuda really) and we consistently have pit times 2-3 minutes less than other teams. Lots of factors here from we have a veteran team who has been doing this for 5+ years now, pit spot (makes more of a difference than most people think), and lack of black flags. The slower teams tend stay out of trouble more so less black flags. The Gangrene team routinely talks trash to us about how many times they pass us but they have never beat our team in a crap can race. Hard to do that when you spend half the race in the penalty box or on jack stands.

    1. You've piqued my curiosity. It's hard to compare that since the only way (I know of anyway) to do it is to wade through the Specialty Timing's timecards and manually go through them to see time spent in the pits. But here's what I see:

      I'll say that Gangrene missed almost two hours early Saturday, but their Pit In laps look to be in the 7-10 minute range.

      Oly Express had a 25-minute or so stop at around the same time Saturday but then had pretty consistent 6:30 Pit In laps. That's impressive.

      California Mille won with 8-10 minute stops but ran what looks like five stints for the whole race (76, 74, 72, 69 and 45 laps) with no black flags.

    2. Here's the link to Specialty Timing's timecards from The Ridge, BTW.

  2. The 25 minute was a black flag on Saturday, our only major one of the race. Does Lemons keep records on black flags per race? If so maybe you could get the info from them and add it to the analysis?

    Little more info on the race from our car but is way to detailed to get into on a macro basis:

    The owner of the track was driving on our team and got the best lap of the weekend, the next closest was a 2:20 (vs 2:17.4) which skewed the fastest lap times results a bit.

    The Ridge is a total HP track, you are flat out on the straight for over 1/2 a mile and our car has a 170 cubic inch slant 6, we were past by everybody but the Saab and the Caddy on the straight.

    We have a team philosophy that we try to not go over 2 hours per driver stint. We have found that drivers start making mistakes once you go over the 2 hour mark (our one major black flag happened 1:55 into the guys stint).

    Low car count probably gives a little small sample bias as well.

    1. Good stuff!

      Lemons keeps track of time and reason for black flags on a sheet. They keep those records, but I'm not sure what they use them for. I'm not going to ask for them because I already pester Nick Pon too much as it is and I still have to bother him to look up some other pesky stuff for me.

      On the timecards, the hardest things to parse can be teams coming in for small fixes and black flags. If they're doing that regularly, they're probably not competing anyway, but it can make it harder to figure out where the fuel stops/driver changes are nonetheless.