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[Oregonian] Lux's successful racing season ends painfully

{mosimage}09/24/03
The Aloha Corvette driver finishes fifth at the SCCA Runoffs after being injured in a crash two weeks earlier

JERRY F. BOONE

MANSFIELD, Ohio -- There was no victory lap for Cindi Lux.

On the final lap of the last race of the year, she was in so much pain she had to push herself around the corners.

"I had pain shooting all through the left side of my body," said Lux, one of 13 area drivers competing last week for a national championship. "I kept talking to myself, saying, 'Just hold your breath for three more corners and you can get through this.' "

Moments after taking the checkered flag Saturday at the end of her 20-lap race for the national championship at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, the 41-year-old Aloha driver pulled her car off the track, unable to drive it any farther.

Just a lap earlier, she had passed the same spot, fighting for third place when suddenly the brakes and power steering failed. The car flew into the corner with smoke pouring from underneath and Lux fighting for control.

Half a lap later, she spun, lost a spot and crossed the line in fifth place.

"It was just that kind of week," she said later. "Ever since we unloaded the car, we were just so close to having it right. And every time we thought we had it fixed, something else happened."

Her problems didn't go unnoticed. Lux had a high profile among more than 700 drivers at the Sports Car Club of America Runoffs and much was expected of her. Considered among the nation's top women drivers in a sport dominated by men, she won the Women's Global GT championship in 1999 and arrived at Mid-Ohio as part of a highly visible, three-car NayKid Racing team of Corvettes. The three drivers compete against one another in the T-1 class, which is dominated by Corvettes and watched closely by General Motors, tire manufacturers and companies ranging from parts manufacturers to Nike.

"It's pretty serious stuff," Lux said. "What we do this year has a big bearing on what we can do next season."

The Runoffs was just her second trip to the track, known for its stretches of twisting pavement with nicknames such as "Thunder Valley" and "Madness."

Two weeks earlier, she was there for a regional SCCA race that was supposed to be a warmup for the national championships.

But during her first session on the track, Lux's crimson Corvette slammed the wall head-on, bending the car so badly that the team scrambled to find a body shop willing to drop everything to repair it.

The car was easy to fix. The driver will take more time.

The impact left Lux with a wrenched neck and double vision, and it aggravated a shoulder injury from a testing wreck a few years earlier.

"It was a dumb rookie mistake," she said. "The worst thing about it is that I went out thinking it was just a test day and didn't have on my neck restraint. Every time I think about that, I get mad at myself."

Lux was in constant pain and had to ice the shoulder every time she got out of the car. Often, she needed help to climb around the roll cage that surrounds her in the Corvette.

She has surgery scheduled Thursday, but until then, Lux is determined to drive through the pain and put the crash behind her.

At times during the week, she disappeared for hours.

"I'd go somewhere all by myself and sit along the track and just watch how other drivers race, " she said.

She closed her eyes, listened to where the drivers shifted, applied the brakes, squeezed back into the throttle. In her mind, she was out there with them, feeling the car dance over the pavement, the weight shifting in the corners, responding as she flew around the course.

The car Lux drives, a Z06 Corvette, is a technical masterpiece. It combines exotic materials, advanced engineering and computers that read and interpret what the car is doing 100 times per second, making it among the fastest street-legal cars in the world.

But the technology can backfire.

During testing and qualifying, Lux could turn only three or four laps before the brake system failed, sending the car skittering across the tarmac as she fought to keep it on the track.

The team swapped computers, put in new brake calipers and sensors, yet the problem reappeared every session. Eventually, Fred Lux, Cindi's husband and crew chief for the three cars, traced the problem to a resonance in the steel brake lines that created a radio wave that the computer read and interpreted as a signal.

Cindi and Fred met at a racetrack, when she drove for a Mitsubishi team and he prepared the cars. They've been together ever since.

"It was hard for me to let Fred become crew chief and not be the guy working exclusively on my car," she said. "I became so used to getting all his attention. I've never been good at sharing."

Still, when he took over, the team's success soared.

In the 11 races leading to the Runoffs, the three drivers scored nine wins, eight second places, five thirds and six track records. One of the three cars started on the pole nine times. The three scored a podium sweep -- first through third place -- three times.

{mosimage}The team of volunteers was put together using a personality test used by Scotty B. White, who owns NayKid Racing, in his Seattle-area trucking business. Each team member answered about 36 questions, which gave White an indication of how well they would work in a group and what motivated them. He looked for people who were willing to take on responsibility, needed little guidance and found satisfaction in doing a good job without getting much credit.

"It's a very unusual team sport," said Sean McCann, a sports psychologist with the U.S. Olympic Committee. "These are very bright, very focused people."

Lux met McCann after working with Olympic skier Picabo Street during a celebrity race. He spent three days watching the team and talking with the crew.

McCann got to see the crew at its best, working under pressure for the most important race of the season.

"This was a bad week for us," Cindi Lux said. "We had a lot of problems we didn't have all season long.

"I'm disappointed I didn't do better, but given the week we had and the problems we overcame, it is hard not to be proud of what we did."

Rick Gilhart, the third NayKid driver, finished second overall. White went out early with a mechanical failure, after trailing the leader for the first half dozen laps.

"Now we know that on a normal race weekend -- one without the problems we had last week -- that we can run with the top drivers in the country," Lux said. "I'm not going to judge the whole season by the last race of the year." Jerry F. Boone: 503-294-5960; This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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