Shane Lewis Battles Murphy's Law To Finish The Rolex 24 At Daytona
Daytona Beach, February 8, 2011: Shane Lewis understands 24 hour races are a battle against the age old saying “If something can go wrong, it eventually will”. He has competed in plenty of them to know it can be a struggle, and Daytona showed no mercy to him and his teammates. This race proved to be a huge challenge to the drivers and crew of the #65 car, battling pit fires, transmission woes, errant Mazdas. Even Mother Nature got involved to wreak havoc on the small Georgia-based team at this year’s Grand Am Rolex 24 Hour race.
Lewis had an outstanding start from 5th position when the green flag waved 3:30 Saturday afternoon. He battled an awesome thirty car field and held strong in the top 6 until a transmission problem struck the team’s 997 Porsche. “We had a problem with the ECU, the electronics went bad,” stated a disappointed Lewis who saw his best efforts at holding a top 5 position slowly fade during a long pit stop starting what would become a race-long battle with the car’s systems that control the transmission and dash.
The field was also not kind to the Chris Smith Racing Cystic Fibrosis #65 car, as it was struck multiple times in aggressive traffic. Both co-drivers Mitch Pagerey and Tom Sheehan were hit while trying to make up laps from the electronic problems with one of the incidents taking out the whole left rear quarter of the car. After a two hour stop to the garage at 2am to replace the left rear upright and adjoining chassis parts, the car was down to 20th place and finishing the race became difficult at best as the car crabbed down the banking. However, the drivers and crew took on the challenge with high spirits and kept fighting back. Little did they know that the battle had just begun, and it was becoming more and more difficult to keep the car on track.
During a driver change from Sheehan to Pagerey in the middle of a very cold night, the car decided to heat up the pits by catching the overflow fuel on fire. A quick ignition source from a headlight wire sparked the fuel into a short-lived fireball. The crew rapidly put out the fire and got Pagerey out, but the car was then drenched in fire suppressant material. The repairs and clean up were made on pit lane, but another couple of laps were lost. The team still hoped to make up some of those laps under caution period wave bys, but luck was not with the team with track positions at the time the ever-present yellow flags fell.
At 5am, a tired crew was forced to deal with something more unexpected than a broken part on the car or battle damage in a 24 hour race– fog had set in. For the first time in the history of the race, an unprecedented three hour long caution period bored drivers and crew to near comatose proportions. Both Pagerey and newcomer Tyler Wolfson split the ugly duty of driving around behind a pace car for hours when tired from a lack of sleep. The crew tried to keep the spirits of the drivers up until Grand-Am decided the visibility was good enough to see through the pea soup that had descended on Daytona International Speedway for hours allowing Wolfson to do a short stint under green. As the daylight hours approached, Lewis took over the drivers seat getting some good running in until the clutch failed on the car.
“We have had it all,” said a very tired Shane Lewis in his paddock garage Sunday morning. “From a pit fire, to being hit on the racetrack, to electrical problems, to a three hour caution period. It has been a real struggle at this race, but the team is still fighting to make the finish.”
The new clutch only lasted a few driving stints, and the car again was in the garage for another clutch change. The crew refused to quit, knowing they could not win the race they threw all their efforts into finishing the race, not just for the drivers or for the team, but for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. The team efforts raised money for the Cystic Fibrosis foundation for the owner’s daughter, Haley. They worked fast and hard to get the new clutch in and put Pagerey back on track within 2 hours. The car survived to another driver change and Shane got in to make the last stint one to remember. As Lewis took the car to the checkered flag, the whole Chris Smith Racing team cheered with every last ounce of energy they had after enduring the grueling long 24 long hours of racing at Daytona.
“Sometimes you wonder how you can do this, race 24 hours in a row, pushing the limits of man and machine for what can often turn out to be a tough finishing position, no matter how fast you drove or how well you prepared the car, “ Lewis said after the race. “You keep doing it though. You just keep coming back and keep fighting every year, knowing winning a 24 hour race is one of the highest accomplishments in racing because it is just that difficult to win.” And he should know, he won the 24 Hours of Nurbürgringlast year. “I can never back away from a challenge!” he grinned, almost as largely as he did when he crossed the finish line at 3:30pm Sunday afternoon, at the end of his twenty-ninth 24 hour race.