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Volunteered at a ChumpCar race and it was glorious

This past weekend, I volunteered to work at the ChumpCar race at Gateway Motorsports Park, East St Louis, IL, and it was glorious. It wasn't awesome, it wasn't spectacular, it was GLORIOUS.

First, let me say that as a volunteer at his first ChumpCar event, I was treated excellently - the staff, the drivers, the other volunteers, everyone was very friendly and happy to see new people there. Everyone took care of me - made sure we had water, shared food and snacks (and alcohol, in an adult, controlled manner), and everyone was more than happy to talk and answer questions. If you're even thinking about getting into ChumpCar or 24 Hours of LeMons racing, go be a volunteer at a race near you, and find out what kind of fun can be had.

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This particular weekend, Chump had the roval (part road course, part oval) track for 14 hours Saturday, and the Optima Batteries USCA was happening in the parking lots on Saturday and the roval on Sunday, all at Gateway Motorsports in lovely East St Louis. Just kidding, it's out in the industrial part of town, and kind of nasty, but like airports, that's kind of where you find race tracks of all kinds - out on the edge where it's not directly in people's backyards, generally where you find warehouses, smokestacks, and grunge. But since you're stuck at the track watching cars go around and around anyway, who cares what it looks like outside the gates.

I know, I know, you want to see pictures, not not just listen to me prattling on about how awesome it was. Because there was both a ChumpCar race and a Optima USCA event going on at the same time, you saw a lot of strange sights sitting right across from each other in the parking lot. Like this Mustang and pro-touring Camaro Z28:

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Sitting across from this ChumpCar racer in the garage:

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I don't remember seeing this car on the track much, and it definitely didn't finish the race, but by all that is holy, they were there to race!

Some more of the very upscale Street Car Challenge racers. A front-engined Porsche with a body widening kit, and a professional rear spoiler:

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My absolute fave of the USCA racers, a 2nd gen Corvette with all the trimmings. She was pretty!

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A serious time attack car, with a very hacked Honda CR-X in the background.

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Seriously, they chopped everything off above the level of the windowsills (and most of the back area down to the floor pan and bumper in the way back), and put on just enough cage and windshield to pass tech. They spent many hours circling the track before engine problems pulled them out of the race for a couple of hours, but they got her going again and finished in style. CrapCan, beat to hell, "yep, that's a $500 car" style, but style none-the-less.

This team was great - it was all older gentlemen in their 50s and 60s, and they were just as serious as the younger kids.

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Illustration for article titled Volunteered at a ChumpCar race and it was glorious

Unfortunately, a couple of hours into the race, they broke their crankshaft (not threw a rod, or cracked their block, or lost a transmission, BROKE THEIR CRANKSHAFT) and had to retire for the day. Watch for Team Clueless (#62) at the next CC race, they were turning great laps before their engine died.

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One of the many Bimmers at the track (CC is notorious for having many E30/E36 3-series, plus 5 and 7 series, at all of their races), plus probably the fastest lap turner, a turbo-charged Honda Civic from Team Holy Rollers (#66).

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I think Holy Rollers really had a chance at the podium, but engine issues kept them in the garages for a sizable chunk of the race. It was great to hear their blowoff valve whistling at the end of the front straight. Glorious, even. The E30 under the tarp belongs to team #325 (hey, I can't remember everyone's team name, especially if you don't paint it on the side of your car in big letters), and they were in 4th for the day. Yes, that is a plywood splitter at the front.

This team wasn't very fast, but they were having a grand old time.

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Seriously, the blue/yellow flag of "get out of the way" was waved at them more times than any other team on the track, but they made it to the end. They had drivers from all over the place, and they made it work. Just goes to show you don't need to have the best car to have a fun time.

Two more Bimmers in the race, a 3 series and (I think) a 7 series.

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Illustration for article titled Volunteered at a ChumpCar race and it was glorious

#351 there was glorious while it lasted, burbling and backblasting as the drivers downshifted into turn 1 off the front straight. Sadly, they blew something and exploded (also in glorious fashion) on said front stretch. Team #35 completed the day, just not fast enough for a podium finish.

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There were two former dirt track racers out there. This was the Dodge Diplomat, in all it's v8, carburetor and side pipes glory.

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Take the lumpiest cam imaginable and put it in a mid-80's, iron block v8, and you got this sound. Team #8 hails out of the St Charles, MO, area, and are sure that, one of these days, they'll actually finish a race in their dirt track beauty. Saturday was not that day, but they were glorious until they had to be towed into the garages for the last time.

More Bimmers, both racer and daily driver, plus a general view of the garage area.

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Illustration for article titled Volunteered at a ChumpCar race and it was glorious

The garages were excellent, with water, electrical, and air hookups at every convenient location imaginable.

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The pits just before they sent the cars out onto the track. These were the last pictures I took, unfortunately, as I was working as the mid-field pit marshall the rest of the day, and either the cars were out on track and moving too fast to get good shots (I don't have a fancy camera), or were in the pits and I was working. You can see #20, the other dirt track racer, a Mercury Grand Marquis (I believe) at the front of the first pic.

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Illustration for article titled Volunteered at a ChumpCar race and it was glorious

It was a great field, with many interesting cars (and a ton of Bimmers) - you can barely see the tail end of the #130 Kentucky Spirits '80s Nissan Z-car in the second pic, and they were running a hell of a race, all to come in third. And what a beautiful day! Mid-80s, not too humid, and sunny all day. I did get sunburned and a bit of sun poisoning, but it was worth it. Next time, I'm bringing my own tent to sit under. Or just adopting one of the teams.

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Here's the trophies, which are obviously glorious in all of their leftover parts and sci-fi movie references.

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Spirit of ChumpCar.

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4th Place, a great Predator statue.

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Third place, not only an Alien, but a Predator Alien (from the Dark Horse comics series, not those Fox movie abortions).

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2nd place, Robocop.

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And 1st, a giant Alien. Love the use of the timing chain on the tail and legs.

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What did I learn while I was out there? A tent is a must. Tools and every part imaginable are a must. Plenty of water and snacks. Pizza places will deliver to the track, you just gotta wait out by the security booth to pick it up. Chilled watermelon would be excellent in the heat. Oh, you mean cars and racing! Okay, fine - get a car, get it caged, and get on the track! Winning is awesome and everything, but there's only one winner, and most everyone is still having fun, so just get out there. A slow car fast is much more fun than a fast car stuck behind a slow car in a tight corner. And no, you don't have to bring out a Bimmer to be competitive in ChumpCar, but having fast, consistent laps helps, and the less time you spend in the pits either wrenching, changing drivers, or fueling, the better.

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