Members of the track safety...
Members of the track safety crew try to figure out how to secure what's left of the MJ2 car after it did a multiple roll. Photo by Jerry F. Boone
Seventh In A Series
The thunder begins down in the valley. From the top of the hill overlooking Infineon Raceway and the lush valley beyond, you can hear the engines long before the cars come into view.
They crest the hill like links in a chain, engines snarling and tires grinding for grip. Some corner on three wheels, others make it on only two. A few don't make it at all, sliding tailend out as the driver's enthusiasm exceeds the laws of physics and the coefficients of friction.
Every road course has its "signature turn" that is unique to the circuit. There are no easy corners at Infineon...but the one at the top of the hill may well be the hardest.
Make this corner and you have but a few seconds to settle the car before you fly downhill, dropping like an elevator to a righthander at the bottom. The fast drivers put two wheels up as they go around the corner, then bank off the "gator teeth" to their left before making a kink and trying to position the car for a tight righthander.
And that's only a half a lap.
A record 41 cars took the green flag for the NASCAR Camping World Series West race on the road course at Infineon Speedway.
Jeff Jefferson wasn't among them.
Jefferson and series rookie Jim Warn pilot Monte Carlos for MJ2 Racing during the Oregon team's first season in the Camping World Series West.
Jeff Jefferson crests the...
Jeff Jefferson crests the hill at Infineon. The righthand corner is the signature turn for the California road course, often giving drivers their greatest challenge. Photo by Jerry F. Boone
With two laps to go at Infineon, and running in the Top 10, Jefferson was forced off the track, over a berm, and into the air. His Chevrolet came down on its nose and rolled three times before finally coming to a rest.
The "Jefferson Airplane" act was an immediate hit on the internet and made the video segment in almost every auto racing television show that weekend.
"It's not the way I want to make the highlight reel," he said.
The wreck was a spectacular final act in what may be the worst road course race in NASCAR history.
The Camping World drivers were mostly oval track veterans trying to come to grips with the different demands of right turns, elevation changes, decreasing radius corners, and the rhythm it takes to do well on a road course. And then there were the "road course experts" who had a hard time making the transition from nimble racecars with sophisticated suspension and huge brakes to the nose-heavy, sluggish, under-braked, and comparatively over-weight NASCAR sedans.
Add NASCAR Sprint Cup team owners watching the action for upcoming talent and you have a recipe for chaos.
It took more than three hours in the mid-day California sun, with temperatures hovering in the triple digits, to complete 64 laps. Two-thirds of them were run behind the pace car. You could count the longest green flag run on your fingers, and have a couple left over.
The race was such an embarrassment that NASCAR took the drivers to the woodshed when they gathered during the next race at Irwindale Speedway. There is another road course on the 2008 schedule and officials wanted to be sure there was no repeat of the Infineon wreck-fest.
MJ2 tested at Infineon a few weeks before the race and Jefferson arrived at the track relatively happy with the car and enthused about the possibility to turn a bad season around.
He already won a road course race at Pacific Raceway in the old Northwest Tour series. The Seattle area road course has many of the same elements as the two-mile Infineon track.