Wednesday, August 4, 2004
Think of your worst rainy-day driving experience and multiply it by five. Racecar driver Winston de Wardt said that is the only way he can compare racing in the rain to driving in it with a regular road car.
"You'd have to take away the windshield wipers and the windshield," de Wardt said. "The only wipers I have are my hands, which I use to wipe my visor off. I tended to do that on straightaways. When you hit standing water on the road, you can feel the car slow down. In a race car, considering you are going 80 to 90 mph, it's not as tranquil when it hits water."
Despite the rain, heavy mist flying in his face and a course that didn't lend itself to passing in adverse conditions, de Wardt pulled out a second-place finish at the Formula Dodge National Championship Series race in Mont Tremblant, Canada, on Saturday.
He qualified fifth -- also in the rain -- and carefully worked his way toward the front of the field during the Saturday race.
"You could barely see the car in front of you," de Wardt said. "It took a few laps. They left some of the turn-in cones out, so my best reference was seeing the orange dots. That let me know if I could try for a pass."
Listening to de Wardt recount the events of his second-place run, it is evident that he is picking up the mentality of a seasonal racecar driver, as opposed to a reckless one. Once de Wardt worked his way into second place, he glanced in his rear-view mirror to check how much distance he'd put between himself and the field behind him. Although, he was challenging for the lead, de Wardt backed off.
"In the past, I would have been like, 'go for it,'" he said. "And I've had a few cases like that and ended up throwing my car off the track. It was still within my ability to keep and maybe pass the leader, but I didn't want to risk it. This year you're tinkering with points, so it's better to take second than try to get first and get fourth."
The decision paid off. After the races in Canada, de Wardt is third in the Formula Dodge National Championship Series points standings, a leap of three spots from the early July races in Wisconsin.
"I'm pretty happy with how things are going," he said. "But things could always be going better."
The weather cleared for de Wardt's race Sunday, but he dropped back from his second-place position at the start and didn't finish as well as he had hoped. Looking back, de Wardt said, he wouldn't have minded if a rain cloud had settled over Mont Tremblant the entire weekend.
"I fared a little better in the rain," he said.
De Wardt is getting ready to start his second year of college in Pueblo, which will interfere with the remainder of this season's racing schedule, but he plans to compete in two events in mid-Ohio and Wisconsin.
"I'm trying not to miss as much school," he said.
-- To reach Melinda Mawdsley call 871-4208 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org