Ask any little boy what he wants to do when he grows up and there is a pretty good chance he will say one of two things: astronaut or racecar driver. I wasn’t good enough at math to be an astronaut, but I did have the natural ability to drive a car like a complete madman. So, I grew up to be a racecar driver.
My name is Rob Krider and I drive for Double Nickel Nine Motorsports based in Del Rey. DNN Motorsports is run by me and Keith Kramer. The two of us managed to build a two-car racing team that won the National Auto Sport Association Honda Challenge Western States Championship last year. That is a title we are hoping to repeat for 2017.
To continue our current national champion status, we have to work hard and drive harder. On May 21, we towed our back-up car, the No. 33 Acura Integra, to Southern California to race at Auto Club Speedway. Auto Club is known for its huge banked turns and NASCAR races. But in the Honda Challenge series we don’t just turn left and drive around in a circle like the boys from NASCAR. In our series Auto Club is turned into something they call the Roval: Road Course-Oval. We race around three quarters of the high speed banking and then make an abrupt turn into the infield where we navigate a technical and tight road course before heading back out on the banking to cross the start/finish line. Auto Club is one of the most difficult Honda Challenge tracks in the year-long series.
We made some changes to the setup of our blue and orange Integra to gain an aerodynamic advantage around the high speed banking. This crucial adjustment was key in giving our team the pace we needed to be competitive in the tightly fought Honda Challenge series. We took a bit of a gamble and removed the rear wing that we normally run on the car, which made the car very fast on the oval but a bit of a challenge on the infield road course.
I qualified the car on the front row, missing the pole position by a mere fifteen thousandths of a second. I had a good qualifying session but, of course, I wish we had earned the pole position. However, I was confident as long as we landed on the front row for the start, we could get a good jump and take the lead before turn three.
Turn three at Auto Club Speedway was fraught with drama during the Honda Challenge weekend. The cars go so fast around the banking that they have to shut down to a very slow speed to make the tight left turn into the infield. This scenario created a situation where many cars were damaged, especially on the first lap. The National Auto Sport Association told all of us competitors during the driver’s meeting that any contact in turn three on the first lap would equal immediate disqualification from the race. The pressure was on to get in the lead and then not make a mistake in turn three. The entire race could be lost in the first lap.
When the green flag dropped, I went into turns one and two side by side with another car in the banking. The tires were still a bit cold and the car was barely holding on in the curves. As the field approached turn three, it was a will of courage to see who would hit the brake pedal at the last second. I waited until the last possible millisecond to squeeze the brakes and narrowly made it through the tight left hand curve of turn three just ahead of the rest of the hard charging Honda Challenge field.
We run Carbotech performance brake pads on our Integra, and they gave me the confidence that I could go deeper than everyone else. And it worked!
Leading the field, all I had to do was hold everyone off until the checkered flag waved at the end of the 30 minute sprint race. That is easier said than done. With no rear wing, the DNN Motorsports Acura Integra was tricky to drive in the tight infield. The back of the car wanted to come around. The rest of the Honda Challenge cars were all over the rear of my car in the tight turns, then I spread the lead on the banking.
The race had sort of an accordion feel, depending on which part of the track the race was on. Eventually the hot Toyo tires got slippery and I found myself in the infield sideways doing everything I could not to crash the Integra. James Landry in his white and green Acura Integra took advantage of my bobble and slipped by. This made me very angry.
I saved the car from spinning and then had to battle for third place as a number of hungry Honda Challenge drivers wanted to take my position. Lap after lap, the race was side by side in the banking as I drove within millimeters of my competitors, sometimes with the rear view mirrors of the different Honda cars touching each other at 130 miles an hour.
I held off the rest of the field but because I was battling and defending passes to stay in second place was unable to reel in the leader, James Landry. When the checkered flag flew, DNN Motorsports had to settle for second place. Yes, in our opinion second place is actually the first loser. But this is a very competitive series, so any podium finish is a successful weekend for a race team.
After the race, I was on the podium, pretty tired from all of the adrenaline rush. I was holding our newest trophy that we will put up in the shop in Del Rey and enjoying some Double Nickel Nine IPA. Double Nickel Nine is a beer from Fresno craft brewers Tactical Ops Brewing, which has an image of our team’s Acura Integra on the label. It’s good to be a racecar driver.
We are very lucky to have local sponsors like Tactical Ops Brewing to support Double Nickel Nine Motorsports. We also have as sponsors: Sanger Tire, Olson Auto Body, Economy Stock Feed, J&B Farms, Performance In-Frame Tuning, TEM Machine Shop, I/O Port Racing Supplies, Smart Racing Products, Hasport motor mounts, Chandler Autosport, ProSpeed RS 683 brake fluid, Carbotech performance brakes, Insane Shafts, Autopower, Cadet Blues the novel, Eibach Springs, and Sampson Racing Communications. I greatly appreciate their ongoing support. And to show it, next race, we will be first.
The next event for Honda Challenge will be Rounds 7 & 8 at Buttonwillow Raceway June 24-25, just an hour and half southwest of Fresno. Buttonwillow is the same track where DNN Motorsports won the 2016 Western States Championships.