Colorado Good 2024

Last weekend was Lotus Colorado’s spring drive. Genae hasn’t been a fan of riding in the Elise since I “upgraded” to solid motor mounts a few years ago. Even though I downgraded half the mounts to stock, she hasn’t been in the car yet, so we drove the land barge Lexus. This allowed us to carry whatever creature comforts we desired, and the Lexus has A/C while the Lotus doesn’t, so there are some advantages. But it’s give-and-take. Having excess cargo and passenger capacity, we were told we’d be the “sweep” car. A few of the cars are quite old; one is older than I am. So if somebody has mechanical issues, we can make sure they’re not abandoned by the side of the road, left to their own devices.

I’m not likely to do this again. The entry list for the weekend had 17 cars on it. I didn’t bother to count how many actually appeared, but 17 was about right. Every time we hit the road, I’d wait until everybody else got going and join the end of the line. As it’s almost impossible to get 17 cars through the same green light, or get on a highway with all 17 cars together, it typically meant that the head of the line was a mile or two down the road before we even got rolling.

On most of our other club drives, whoever was leading the pack would pull over for the occasional scenic spot for a group photo, or even just pull over to get the group back together. That wasn’t how it went on this drive. The leading cars were all in a race to the destination. Even with us exceeding the speed limit by 20 or 25 mph we still lost ground. The worst case was the last day of the drive when we arrived at the restaurant for lunch about 20 minutes after everybody else. We very much felt like we weren’t part of the group. So it goes.

Another difference between this trip and most of the others is that this one was pretty much just driving and eating at restaurants. In the past, we’d stop at various points of interest. We’ve been to the Sand Dunes, the Black Canyon, the Colorado Monument, the Royal Gorge Bridge, and so on. There may have been other trips where we didn’t visit any attractions, but none come immediately to mind.

I’ve never put together one of these drives. I know that it’s not easy, and the organizers put quite a bit of effort into it. I appreciate it. I really do. But I will always retain the right to go our own way for a meal. Apparently, we gave great offense to some when we let them know we’d be skipping the second BBQ meal of the day for an alternative. I like BBQ, but having had it for lunch, I didn’t really want it for dinner, too. We were told that the restaurant had non-BBQ options, but we didn’t really want $40 steaks. Being tail-end Charlie all weekend, then getting grief over not wanting BBQ twice a day detracted a bit from our joy.

It was a beautiful drive. We went over a long list of mountain passes: Cottonwood, Slumgullion, Wolf Creek, Coal Bank/Molas/Red Mountain, McClure, and Independence with the group and Fremont Pass after we peeled off and headed home. The snow on Cottonwood and Independence (which just opened the day before) was eight or ten feet deep.

Sorry I don’t have many photos to include, but these things happen when you can’t stop and smell the roses. (We would have stopped at the top of Independence Pass, but what little of the parking lot got plowed was jam-packed when we got there and there was nowhere to park.)

Spring Repairs

I won’t bore anybody with the details of the insurance claim for the damage incurred when my car got backed into in the motel parking lot in March. In summary, they said they’d pay for me to have the front clam replaced, then they sent me a check for less than they said and it took some back-and-forth to get that explained. I’m still waiting for them to deal with the other party’s insurance, so I should be getting another $600 from them to cover my deductible.

Of course, that money started burning a hole in my pocket right away. Before I even had the check, I was exploring the possibilities.

A new clam would use up all the money, plus some (which, theoretically I’d get reimbursed). But I’d have a nice, shiny clam installed and painted by a professional. I might be without the car for six or eight weeks (or more?) while the work was done.

But I have a list of other work I’d like to do to the car. I replaced the transmission not long ago. The third gear synchro was going out and it was cheaper to replace than to have repaired. Supposedly. I don’t know if the transmission I bought (online, from an individual rather than a company) was bad when I bought it or went bad very quickly. Same issue: third-gear synchro. For a while, it was okay when everything was warmed up, but when still cold, third would grind. So for the last year or more, I often skipped third gear and went straight from second to fourth.

On the second day at Barber, though, third gear was crunchy all day, even when well warmed up. I need to either repair or replace the transmission. Again. Sigh.

If I’m going to go to the trouble to replace the transmission, I should also replace the clutch. We replaced the clutch when we did the last transmission, so it only has about 25,000 miles on it.

When we installed the previous transmission, we had to make some adjustments to the shifter cables. It seemed to me that we had reached the limit of the adjustments we could make, but I could be in error. I found there are cables I can get that are upgrades – they have heim joints on each end. While we’re in there doing the transmission and clutch, we may as well replace the cables, too.

Finally, I’ve decided that my solid motor mounts are the cause of my electrical issues on last spring’s trip to Atlanta. With the solid mounts, the entire car vibrates and buzzes and I’m blaming this vibration for the electrical short.

I decided to return to stock motor mounts for the left and right sides and leave the solid mounts in for the front and rear.

I discussed all this with Mike and the guys on my LeMons racing team. Mike seems to get his jollies by working on cars with Toyota engines and transmissions. It turns out that he also has some experience with fiberglass repairs.

Not long ago, Mike bought himself an Elise. It needs some work on the front clam. So Mike and I came to an agreement: If I bought a replacement transmission, clutch, cables, and motor mounts, he’d do the work in exchange for keeping my old, bad transmission. Also, if I buy all the materials and supplies needed to repair both clams, he would do the bodywork. He would also show me how to do fiberglass repairs if I wanted to learn. When it was all said and done, I should have a few dollars left over from the insurance settlement. What’s not to like?

Two weeks ago, I took the car over to Mike’s place. We He worked on it all day Saturday (from about 10am to after midnight) and for a few hours on Sunday. Driving it home, I noticed two problems. First, I had to use the reverse lockout to get the car into first or second gears and second, the parking brake indicator light is always on now.

The first problem was relatively easy to fix. This involves adjusting the cables. I started in the back, on the transmission, but that wasn’t working. Adjustments can also be made to the shifter mechanism. This was the solution.

The brake light is another story. Somewhere along the line, we lost a part. When you release the parking brake, the handle comes down on a little part that is then pushed forward to press a button. We’ve looked everywhere, but can’t find it. If the part was a little bigger, I’d suggest I’ll find it as soon as I buy a replacement.

It’s been two weeks since the repairs were complete, but today was the first time I’ve had the car on the highway. The transmission is a straight swap for the original equipment: Toyota C64 transmission with LSD. Except that this one has the Toyota Celica sixth gear, which is a little taller. In sixth gear, the engine is revving 11% less. It will have no effect on the track, as I’ve never used sixth on track. Heck, some tracks I don’t even get into fifth. I’m expecting that on my next road trip, I may be able to top 40 miles to the gallon of gas.

The motor mounts also make a big difference. I still have the stiffness I want under acceleration, but the car is a lot more civilized. You can hold a conversation without yelling and your fillings don’t want to vibrate right out of your teeth. I’m pretty happy about that.

We don’t have a definite schedule for the bodywork yet. My only request is that we get it completed before LOG, which is late September. Mike’s car currently has an orange front clam on it. That’s not the bad one. When we do the bodywork, we’ll put his orange clam on my car so I can still drive it while. I’m sure it’ll look fairly hideous, but all-in-all, I’m happier driving a hideous-looking Elise than not driving an Elise at all.

Barber Trip 6: A Short Break, Then Home

I took advantage of Jayne and Dan’s gracious hospitality and spent three nights in Atlanta. I enjoyed a couple of nice dinners in the company of charming people, had a couple of much-needed long walks, and enjoyed not driving. I did laundry.

Over five days, I spent 28 hours driving on the highways and another four on the track. And the trip home will be another 27 hours. That’s a stupid amount of seat time.

Although I had no concrete plans for diversions on the trip home, I did have a couple of ideas. On last year’s abortive trip, a trip to Shiloh got scrubbed. But not being able to lock the car makes planning easier. I can’t count on finding another friendly groundskeeper, so diversions were off the menu.

I’m okay with that. My route would avoid interstates until I was a hundred miles from home, split nicely into three nine-hour days, and on two of the three days I gain an hour.

Thursday

I went from Georgia to Alabama, then Tennessee, Kentucky, Illinois, and, finally, Missouri. Outside of the towns, I could drive at a pace of my choosing, needing to pass only a handful of cars.

The rural South, by which I mean the backroads of Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and Tennessee, is pretty dense with Confederate flags and Trump flags. Today I drove through a lot of country that has been celebrating insurrectionists for generations and is supporting an insurrectionist today.

At the hotel, I thought I was able to lock the car. I had it in a well-lighted spot in the front, but since it locked, I’d rather park in the back, where I could see it from my room. There’s a nice spot, right next to the light pole, in a single spot (as opposed to a duplex spot). An hour after parking it, I drove to get dinner. When I unlocked the car, it started beeping and it beeped until I hit the button again. At the restaurant, I tried to lock it, but it failed again. Okay, it’s fickle.

After dinner, I noticed that I had left my glasses case in the car. So when I stepped outside for a deep breath of relaxation, I grabbed the case and it locked again. Two out of three now!

My room is on the fourth floor. I’m parked in my single spot and there’s a big pickup that’s in the hotel side of his duplex spot, taking both sides. Another pickup pulls into the spot next to the other light pole, but his tailgate is way over the line of his other spot.

About thirty seconds after the couple in the recently arrived truck enter the building, my alarm goes off. Nobody was anywhere near the car. I was just looking at it. I didn’t know how long the alarm would sound, but I hustled out to the parking lot. When I unlocked it, it beeped until I hit the button again. So I’m back to Plan A, leaving it unlocked.

I’m in a La Quinta this time, instead of the usual dives. But even here I can’t win: the light over the sink flashes about once a second. And it flashes once more after you turn it off. Very annoying. The ice machine works.

Today, about the last thirty miles of road were part of my route on the way to Atlanta last year, but in the other direction. This is the short stretch through Illinois between bridges across the Ohio and Mississippi rivers. Cool bridges.

Friday

The most enjoyable part of the drive was the first few hours, highlighted by my miles on MO 34. It’s a very nice Lotus Road. Twisty, up and down, left and right, mile after mile. If you’re passing through southeast Missouri, it’s worth considering. I enjoyed a different part of southern Missouri last trip. Looks like Lotus Roads are in abundance here.

I don’t recall seeing either a Confederate flag or a Trump flag today. Lots of signs for lots of gun stores, and nearly as many gun stores as churches.

I’m averaging over 35 mpg.

I was expecting southern Kansas to be much like northern Kansas. Not true. I prefer northern Kansas to southern Kansas. There is more traffic down here. Not so much traffic I couldn’t pick my pace, but I had to make quite a few passes.

In the parking lot at tonight’s motel, I met a bunch of college kids who were on their way to a rocket competition. Their rocket is about seven feet tall. They ran a separation test in the field next to the motel parking lot. It was successful. They didn’t launch it, just tested that the stages separated properly. I asked them if it was their moonshot. They laughed. One guy said it would reach about 15,000 feet. Another corrected him: it’ll go 5,000.

Dinner at Luigi’s. I had the cheese ravioli, a Peroni, and a chocolate cheesecake. It’s downtown. I was going to park in the adjacent lot, but it was metered. It helpfully told me I only needed to pay during the hours listed, but no hours were listed. It’s across the street from the police station, and there are police vehicles parked here. Not having any coins, and noticing that the spot right in front of the restaurant entrance was empty, I parked there. I got to watch people look at the car. I’m sad that people see her damaged like this.

Saturday

I picked up a biscuit sandwich at the fast food joint next to the gas station. In the parking lot was a black pickup truck with a tinted back window. Written on the window in pink and pale blue in a woman’s handwriting, “Why do you support the rapist fraudster insurrectionist?” It might have been “we” instead of “you”. I was surprised to see it. On this trip, I’ve seen a lot of pro-Trump sentiment, nothing pro-Biden, and only this anti-Trump.

Kansas Route 96 isn’t quite arrow-straight and not quite billiard-table flat, but it’s not far off. It’s the antithesis of a Lotus Road. Kansas 96 turns into Colorado 96 at the border, then I pick up US 287 at Eads. 287 has a lot of truck traffic. Thankfully, there are a few passing lanes. I did pass a string of 4 rigs without a passing lane, but they were nose-to-tail.

Summary

I drove in eight states, covering 3,201 highway miles and 293 miles on track for a total of 3,494 miles. I now have 105,848 miles on the car. It had less than 17,000 when I bought it, so I’ve put about 89,000 miles on it. Roughly 20,000 of those miles are on these track-day road trips.

I enjoyed the trip despite the car getting backed into. I keep telling myself it could have happened at Safeway, but it didn’t.

Barber is a wonderful track on fantastic grounds with an impressive museum. I thoroughly enjoyed driving the back roads of America.

Barber Trip 5: Motorcycles

Two days of hanging around the race track wasn’t enough for me. The Chin event was over, but I still needed to go to the Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum.

The museum is best known for its motorcycles. They have over 1600 bikes in their collection, with over 900 on display. But that’s not why I wanted to wander through the place. You see, it also happens to have the world’s largest collection of Lotus race cars. Throw in die-cast cars, wooden toy cars and trucks, outboard boat motors, and a lawn mower and you have a pretty interesting way to spend a few hours.

Whereas the Presidential museums I visited on this trip both opened at 9:00 am, Barber doesn’t let you in until 10. Or so says the sign on the door and their website. I didn’t have anything better to do, so I got there a little early. I was hoping they’d let me drive around part of the perimeter road so I could look for more treasures. There wasn’t anybody at the gate to ask, and they had the road coned off. So I parked at the museum.

To the right of the main entrance, they have a very striking trio of sculptures that make up one piece. Is there a sculpture-oriented word equivalent to triptych? It’s called “The Chase”, and the plaque says it indicates “the super-human power and sense of achievement that one experiences on the track.” They have a smaller version of at least one of the figures on display inside.

After taking a few photos, I started walking back to my car. A guy came out the museum doors and called to me, “Come on in! We’re open!” It was 9:38. This was good news. After the museum, I’m driving to Atlanta. I had been going back and forth about whether I’d have enough time to take the back roads or I’d have to violate Rule #1. Extra time in hand is good.

When I paid for admission, the cashier told me that I was in luck – Indycar was here at the track doing some testing.

They tell everybody to start touring the museum from the top down. Take the elevator up to the fifth floor, then walk down the spiral ramp to each lower floor.

The number of motorcycles there is ridiculous. I’m not particularly interested in motorcycles, so I was a bit overwhelmed. Bikes from World War II, Italian Vespas, a bike with a wooden sidecar. I wandered randomly, perhaps working down to the cars a bit quicker than I should have.

I’ve seen large numbers of Lotus before. At the two LOGs I attended, we had more than a hundred, almost all of them road cars. At the F1 race I attended, they had a bunch of classic Lotus F1 cars that ran in a vintage race. But the collection at Barber is impressive for its breadth. I don’t think any of it was post-Chapman, and a few of the very earliest models were reproductions, but they damn near had one of everything that raced. They even had the bicycle.

After checking out the Lotus collection, I wandered out toward the track. From the museum, you can go across the first bridge (the second when you’re on the track), down to a path through the woods in the infield, and then up to the second bridge (the bridge with the hanging lady). The bridges have clear sections in the walkway – you can look straight down onto the track.

Indycars do a lap here as fast as 1:06. That means, if I were to be on the track for a half-hour session with an Indycar, he’d pass me nine or ten times.

I chatted with a couple of guys who come to the Indycar race every year. They said, “You can’t see it from here, but over there,” they pointed vaguely to the woods, “some big ants are carrying off a motorcycle.” Then we got to see Pietro Fittipaldi’s car catch on fire. He was frantically waving his arms for somebody to come to extinguish the fire, but it took a couple of minutes for the trucks to start rolling. He’s the grandson of Lotus F1 champ Emerson Fittipaldi.

After stopping by the gift shop to buy the obligatory t-shirt, I hit the road. I had plenty of time to take the back roads for a pleasant drive through the Alabama and Georgia countryside. I didn’t have much traffic until the last forty minutes or so, as I got near Atlanta.

If you’re a motorcycle lover or a fan of Lotus, the museum is worth the visit.

Barber Trip 4: Raison d’être

I figured that it would be my luck that it would rain the entire weekend. After all, the track day gods have been, for more than a year, testing my resolve to run laps at Barber. Last year’s broken windshield and electrical problems and this year’s trailer hitch into my front clam and now my inability to lock the car. It would be trivial for the track day gods to park a rain cloud over the track.

Saturday was overcast most of the day. I saw my shadow for about 15 minutes. Overcast, but not threatening rain. There was much discussion in the paddock about the forecast for Sunday. I’d rather it not rain, but I won’t have any say in the matter so I don’t obsess about it. I had two people show me Sunday forecasts that were quite different. Some said rain at 3:00 pm, others said rain at 7:00 am. It did rain on Sunday, but it was over before 6:00 am.

Driving on the wet pre-dawn roads to the track, I couldn’t know that the weather would be good. I had been joking about the track day gods testing my resolve, exacting a heavy toll. The gods didn’t bring another deluge down upon my head, but they weren’t done with me yet. A quarter of a mile from the entrance to the facility, my check engine light came on.

I texted a screenshot of the code to my trusted advisors, cleared the code, and went on with my business. It’s an O2 sensor. The code hasn’t come back.

This is my third event with Chin Track Days, with a two-day event at Mid-Ohio and last year’s aborted run at Road Atlanta being the others. This experience taught me a few things. First is that Chin Events are more expensive than most. On a per-day basis, including this trip, my five Chin days are five of the six most expensive events. Only a day at Circuit of the Americas was more.

The second nugget of information, related to the first no doubt, is that the vast majority of cars entered are fast and expensive. I neglected to save a copy of the roster before the event (and Chin won’t share that info with me after the event), but the number of Porsche 911 GT3s and GT4s is off the chart. Average cost per car is higher than any other event I’ve been to, except the Ferrari customer appreciation days.

They put me in the Yellow group. This group includes all the novices and the solo intermediate drivers who haven’t been to this track before. I think It’s the best group for me. Passing is by point-by only, and only on the straights. Other groups are point-by, but passes can be done anywhere. Another advantage to this group is that it could get smaller. After Saturday, some yellow group drivers may graduate to a higher group leaving less traffic for me.

And, theoretically, running with the novices might mean that some of these fast cars won’t be going so fast because the drivers haven’t figured things out yet. A downside might be that novice drivers are struggling to cope with information overload and may not be as attentive as they should be to their rear-view mirrors.

Okay, enough prelude. On to the track.

What a track it is. The first thing I noticed, even in the pre-dawn dark, was that there is art all over the grounds. It’s mostly sculptures, from a giant woman soaking in a pond, to a bear in the woods, to trolls peeking out from under drain covers. There are impressions of leaves in the concrete like fossils, there’s a skunk on the stairs, there are giant dragonflies and metal insects. There’s a small herd of bison in the infield being hunted by some big cats. And a giant spider. Three different people told me “Barber is the Augusta of race tracks!” I’m not a golf fan, so the allusion is lost on me, but if everybody says it, it must be true!

Each day at a Chin event, the first session is open to drivers from all run groups. It’s a yellow-flag session, no passing allowed, to allow folks, especially those of us new to the track, to familiarize ourselves with the track and locate all the corner workers.

Two pedestrian bridges cross the track. I later walked across these bridges when I visited the museum. On my first lap of the yellow-flag session, I spotted the hanging lady under the first bridge. It’s a mannequin, and she’s hanging by her arms underneath the bridge. It was a little jarring, given the lynched doll I spotted hanging over the road yesterday in Mississippi. For just an instant, it freaked me out.

After that session, one of the other drivers asked me if I’d seen her. Of course I did! He told me that he ran an entire day without spotting her. He didn’t know about her until one of his friends asked him at the end of the day if he’d seen her. How can you go under that bridge 40 or 50 times in a day without noticing? Is it an unintentional test of a driver’s observational skills?

There are a couple of other notable mannequins on the track. There are two of them sitting on the wall where the cars enter the pits. I’m not sure if one of the mannequins is pushing the other off the wall or not. I’ll admit to another quick feeling of shock when I first saw them.

I have a practice of walking through the paddock looking for other Lotus drivers. For a short while, four of us were registered but two canceled. The only other Lotus was a blue 2005 Elise. I chatted briefly with the owner. He’s an instructor, his car is supercharged (265hp, he tells me), and he’s running on slicks. I tried to track him down a couple of times on Sunday, but we never reconnected. I was going to jokingly ask him if I could run a few laps on his slicks.

As usual, I’m running on my hard street tires. I get a lot of grief about it. Not so much grief on these road trips, but most track rats make it sound like they run on slicks or not at all. I’m not racing, so I don’t really care how my lap times compare to others. I’m competing with myself. How close to “maximum performance” can I get? For me, the skill is getting as close to the edge of performance as I possibly can. With hard tires, you get to the edge at a slower speed.

This weekend, though, I think I’d have been happier on stickier tires. There were only two cars in my group that were slower than I was. I looked at all the videos to count how often I was passed, but I did count passes in one session: I got passed 13 times and made 3 passes. If that was a typical number of passes in a session, and it was, over the course of 8 sessions I was passed well over 100 times.

Every time I pointed somebody by, it cost me about a second. Getting passed on the front straight compromises two laps. To get a decent time, I needed a “clean” lap – neither passing nor being passed. Because I was so slow, I got passed nearly every lap. Some of the Porsches were fast enough that I didn’t need to get off the throttle to let them by, but there were so many of them, I couldn’t always tell before the pass if I had to lift.

Had I been on my track wheels/tires, I reckon I’d have been 6 or 8 seconds a lap faster. That would have been fast enough to get me quite a few more clean laps. Cars that passed me twice would have only caught me once. And I’d have sometimes gotten an extra lap.

I didn’t have a target lap time in mind. My goal is constant improvement: to be faster in my last session than in my first. This I achieved: my fastest lap of the weekend was my very last lap. And that lap was compromised by letting a Porsche pass me on the front straight. Even with these tires, given a few extra clean laps, I might have reached a 1:50 lap time. Tall order, yes, as my best was a 1:53. But in one session, my timer said my optimal time was 1:49.

In addition to my eight sessions as a member of the Yellow group, each day ended with “happy hour” where people from any session could run. I joined in near the end of the session, thinking there’d be fewer cars. I lasted only 2 or 3 laps each day. On Saturday, I was getting passed left and right without giving point-bys. That didn’t happen on Sunday, so I’m guessing somebody mentioned it. In any event, the other cars were just too fast for me to enjoy myself and it was clear I stood no chance of getting a clean lap. So it goes.

Here are some more photos, including the giant spider.

I had a great time. I spent two days hanging out with people who share a common passion. Everybody played nice on the track. Nobody bumped into anything, but there was one red flag. A brand new Toyota Corolla GR lost its oil drain plug in turn 15 and spilled oil all the way down the main straight and into turn 1, where he spun out on his own oil. I’m guessing the track charged him four figures for the oil-dry they had to deploy.

Here’s the obligatory lap video.

Barber Trip 3: Insecurity

Today’s diversion is a visit to the William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum. It doesn’t open until 9:00, so I could sleep in a little.

The free breakfast cost too much. Yesterday, at the bad motel, at least I got a bagel with cream cheese. This morning, no such luck. My choices were cold cereal or yogurt with lots of sugar. I tried the biscuits and sausage gravy. The biscuits were hard. The sausage gravy may have been vegan. After two bites, I tossed it. The woman at the next table made eye contact with me, chuckled, and nodded.

After the non-breakfast I headed out, stopping to fill the tank on my way to the museum. I got there just as the doors opened. There was just one problem, though: I couldn’t lock the car. It acted like it locked, it made the right noises in the right sequence, but after a few seconds, the alarm gave a steady beep. I’m pretty sure that’s what it does if I try to lock it with the boot open, or a door. I opened and closed the doors and boot lid and tried again with the same result.

That’s just great. I have the passenger seat and footwell filled with stuff including a laptop, some tools, and all the cameras. In theory, I could repack the car to have the valuables in the boot, but something will still be in the unlocked cabin. When I’m just driving around town, I almost never lock it, as I often have the top off, and I seldom carry anything. But road trips are a different kettle of fish.

After my third unsuccessful round of opening and closing the doors and boot lid, one of the groundskeepers rolled up in his cart. He asked the usual questions about the car, including “What kind of car is it?”. He was not the first I’ve talked to on this trip who’d never heard of Lotus and would not be the last. I answered all his questions, then told him that I was having trouble locking it.

He said, “Go visit the museum. I’m going to be working right over here all morning cleaning up from the storm. I’ll keep an eye on it.” That was very kind of him. I have a blue tarp that I use to keep everything on the passenger side covered up.

I have no idea why it’s failing. One possibility is damage from the collision. I don’t think that’s the case, but it’s possible. Another is something’s wet. I drove through 3 hours of rain, and it rained most of the night, so who knows? My tape job is holding up to the weather, still looking good. I think I have enough tape left to redo it if I have to.

The Clinton Museum is the largest of the National Archives Presidential Museums. At least, according to the Clinton Museum folks. They admit that Reagan’s is bigger if you include the hanger that holds Air Force One and Marine 1. Not that it matters who’s is bigger.

The grounds here are pretty nice, but the rain had started up again so I didn’t wander around. One of the things a President has to do these days when he gets the job is to decide where he’s going to be buried. While I was looking out an upper-story window at the grounds, a worker pointed out where Bill and Hillary will reside after shuffling off this mortal coil.

When I visit these Presidential museums, I always look for a life-sized statue so I can get a selfie. Ike was on a pedestal, and I figured it would be poor form to climb it for a photo. There is no statue of Clinton here.

The price I paid for going to the museum was having to trade some back roads for interstate. My route started with sixty miles of interstate and ended with another hundred and fifty, making it just a tad over half the total mileage. Had I taken interstates the whole way, I’d have saved a few minutes but gone farther, going through Memphis. The middle section took me through the backwoods of Mississippi.

It was still raining when I got off the superslab. The first thing I noticed was that there wasn’t nearly as much standing water as on the interstate. The two-lane roads are crowned much better, with water flowing from the middle out. Much better drainage than the interstate. And with so much less traffic, I wasn’t constantly driving through somebody else’s spray.

I crossed the Mississippi River on US 49, over an impressive old girder bridge. I’d have loved to have stuck the 360 camera out the window, but it was raining. Too, the road on the bridge is in rough shape. It was definitely two-hands-on-the-wheel rough.

Just as on many of my other trips, I saw quite a few flooded fields. Is it always flooding somewhere in the Midwest when I’m driving through, or is it just where I go?

I was on a mix of roads, from four-lane divided highway down to a stretch of state highway with neither speed limit signs nor a centerline. Once the rain stopped, it was a pleasant drive.

This narrowest, least-traveled road alternated between small cultivated fields and stands of trees. There were quite a few run-down, abandoned-looking shacks along the road. Where the road went through the woods, the trees made an archway over the road. In one place where trees arched the road, I spotted a doll hanging in a tree, lynched. Right above my head. Maybe two feet tall. I couldn’t tell if the doll was black. I have a guess based on nothing more than stereotypes.

I was surprised at the lack of restaurants on my backroads drive. I had the same thing last year in Missouri, but I was on a number of county roads. Today, I was on state routes and US highways – no county roads. I was in this foodless zone from about eleven to after two. Maybe I was still feeling good from last night’s steak, but I wasn’t particularly hungry for any interstate fast food. I powered on to the motel.

The last two hours of the drive were dry. I basically ran a 75-mile-an-hour blow-dryer on the car for two hours. I still can’t lock the car. This does not bother me at all until my return trip. But I don’t think I’m comfortable leaving everything in an unlocked car while I wander around the Shiloh battlefield and Indian mounds. I doubt I’ll be able to count on the kindness of groundskeepers to keep an eye on my car. Driving back with no diversions means I’d be able to trade more interstate for back roads.

Dinner was at a little Mexican place next to the motel. It’s in a former fast-food building. There’s parallel parking where the drive-thru was. The place was busy, and it seemed like everybody knew each other. I had a chimichanga and a beer.

Barber Trip 2: The Deluge

The first order of business was to find a hardware store that might have some heavy-duty clear waterproof tape so I could make a “repair”. Abilene has no Home Depot or Lowes, but there is an old-school hardware store downtown. I’m trying to think of the last time I set foot in a hardware store that wasn’t part of a giant chain. The building was probably 125 or 150 years old. They had some T-Rex tape which fit the bill perfectly.

Downtown Abilene is a pile of brick buildings a couple of blocks deep on the north side of about a quarter of a mile of railroad tracks. Ike’s place is a few blocks away on the other side of the tracks.

The Eisenhower Museum is the fourth Presidential Museum I’ve been to. Turns out, you can get a National Archives passport and get it stamped at the museums. I’ve been to three of the first four. I mentioned this to the ticket taker, adding, “I’ve been to Monticello, too.”

“That’s just a residence,” she sniffed.

The museum itself is about on par with Hoover and Truman. World War II gets the most emphasis, with a pretty good general overview of the war in Europe and North Africa.

I don’t know how many of the Museums have the gravesites on the grounds. Ike and Mamie are in a little chapel next to the visitor’s center. It’s not really a chapel, though. Officially it’s the Place of Meditation. His boyhood home is there as well, but I didn’t tour it.

These days it seems each President is set on making a grander statement with his library than any of his predecessors, so the modern ones are in “statement” buildings surrounded by elaborate grounds. The buildings here are old school – utilitarian, brick, more modern than downtown Abilene, but not out of place. The grounds, too, are not great. The lawn is brown, and there’s not much more than lawn. It looks barren.

They’re working on the road in front of the grounds, and the fountain in front of the chapel is being renovated. There’s a sign to that effect, but the sign is the only sign of renovation.

Exiting the museum parking lot, I headed south on KS 19 to start my great zig-zag, south then east, south then east to Little Rock.

Most of the day was spent on back roads, but the last three hours were on the Interstate. It was the longest stretch of Interstate for the whole trip. It was harrowing. I don’t know if it was the same storm that dropped a foot and a half of snow at home, but for three hours I drove through rain. Torrents of rain. It was a Biblical storm. I ran the wipers on full-blast, with the defogger on high. Sheets of water ran across the road. A light car with big tires is a good recipe for hydroplaning. Quite often, the car would be a boat for ten or fifteen feet. I wasn’t the slowest vehicle on the road, but it was close. When the big rigs passed me, they threw up so much spray I couldn’t see the cabs of the trucks.

One particularly memorable moment came on a slight bend to the left. The whole road was banked, and water ran in sheets across it. The water wasn’t just ten or fifteen feet across. It looked endless. I added steering angle, but the car kept going straight. It seemed to take forever.

Other drivers were having difficulty, too. There was a jack-knifed big rig on the other side of the highway, then an SUV in the center median, and then three or four emergency vehicles all on the other side.

In the middle of this maelstrom, Google Maps decided I needed to concentrate on navigation instead of the weather. It directed me to get off the Interstate. It didn’t seem right to me, but I obeyed our AI overlords. In the end, it sent me on a six-mile loop back to the same spot that I got off the Interstate. Why the heck did it do this? Does Maps hallucinate now?

Oddly, this may have been a good thing. The storm was getting worse, but now I was going slower and could find a safe place to pull off the road if need be. It started to hail. My defogger could no longer keep the inside of the windshield clear. I pulled over and stopped. I had paper towels with me, so I dried the inside of the windshield. Four or five times.

The rain finally mellowed considerably, and I got back on the interstate, but it didn’t stop until I was close to the motel. It was an intense and exhausting drive.

After checking in to the motel, I wanted a beer. So I walked across a couple of parking lots to the Outback Steakhouse and had a “tall blonde” (a 22 oz. blonde ale), a petite filet with a loaded baked potato, and a house salad. The meal was nearly as much as my room for the night.

Not long after I got back to the motel, the rain started again and tornado sirens started to wail. I checked the news for information and learned that there had been a tornado a few hours earlier, near my route. Fun stuff!

When I went to the car at 9:15, the tornado sirens were wailing again. The rain really started coming down at around 10; more thunder and lightning. Probably the same band of storms I drove through, only now getting here.

Barber Trip 1: Malfunction Junction

Most of the first day was on US 36, which I’ve done several times now. When I drive cross-country, I generally listen to podcasts. There’s a guy I listen to who likes to make 6-hour long episodes about history. Today’s episode was part two of two about the Vikings, Halfway through it, I realized I had listened to part one on this same road on last year’s trip. I’ve probably just developed a weird association between Kansas and the Vikings.

I spent the first night in Abilene, Kansas, in a room with a view of the onramp for eastbound I-70.

I brought a small cooler full of soft drinks that I figured I’d be able to fill with ice every morning at my motel and have cold drinks for the day. “Man plans, God laughs!” Not here, Bucko, the ice machine is out of order. A sign taunts me: “Working hard to fix this problem” They dated it. They’ve been working hard on it for nearly a year. It’s the worst motel room I’ve ever had.

After being in the car all day, I didn’t want to drive anywhere and I wanted to walk. There was an Arby’s across the street, so I hoofed it over there. There are no crosswalks or sidewalks, of course. Although I was crossing a four-lane divided road without a crosswalk, I wasn’t defying death: the four-lane road has almost no traffic, even though it’s an I-70 interchange.

Everything in sight is run down.

I didn’t want to walk up to the drive-through (which I’ve done at my bank) so I went to the Burger King next door instead. The service was slow at BK so the gal who filled my order upgraded my fries and drink. I wasn’t going to take the upgraded drink until I realized I could fill this giant cup up with ice and put it in my cooler.

That Sinking Feeling

After watching some TV, I went out to the car to grab my water bottle.

I had parked my car in a spot that guaranteed that everybody saw it. It was well-lit, and everybody who came into the parking lot swept it with their headlights. It was a very good example of the exact opposite of invisible. Nobody could not see it. And yet…

My heart sank when I walked out the door. Somebody had backed into my car. No note under my wiper. From the damage, it was obviously done by a truck with a trailer hitch. A woman was parked in the handicapped spot next to me, but she’d only been there a few minutes to make a phone call and didn’t see it happen.

I went back inside and talked to the desk clerk. He said he’d have a look at the security camera footage and went into the back room. A few minutes later he returned, saying he couldn’t access the camera footage as he didn’t have the password.

We went outside and looked around the parking lot. Most of the vehicles in the parking lot were pickup trucks and most of them had trailer hitches. I found two trucks that were candidates, with hitches at the right height.

As I was taking photos of one of the candidate trucks, a man came toward me. My first thought was that he belonged to the truck I just photographed and was going to give me grief about taking pictures. I was wrong. He asked if I was the owner of “the green car”. He said he was the one who backed into it. I took photos of his truck, proof of insurance, and driver’s license. “It was dark; I didn’t see your car.” I have no words.

Yes, I’m in a cheap motel. But this could have happened in any parking lot.

I had difficulty falling asleep, and when I woke up for a bathroom break, I couldn’t get back to sleep. Tomorrow’s going to be a long day.

Barber Trip 0: Déjà Vu

It’s déjà vu all over again.

Yogi Berra

Last spring, I headed to Georgia to run laps at Road Atlanta and Barber Motorsports Park. It was an unsuccessful trip, though, with electrical gremlins that caused me to run only 13 laps at Road Atlanta and to cancel Barber entirely. Barber was my main target, and RA was a target of opportunity. It was a disappointing trip, to state the obvious.

So this spring I set off for Barber once again. I couldn’t fit another track in the schedule, so it was Barber or bust.

The plan was to leave very early on Thursday, violate Rule #1 all morning to take a late morning wander through the Eisenhower Presidential Museum in Abilene, KS. Spend the night somewhere in Missouri, and another long day to Birmingham. After my two-day event at Barber, I’d visit their museum on Monday morning, and then drive to Atlanta. Then the plan gets vague: one or two nights in Atlanta and I’d plan the return trip on my rest day.

In the lead-up to my departure, I’m generally filled with a keen sense of anticipation. This time, though, I was feeling … flat. I wasn’t keyed up at all. I didn’t have to put a lot of effort into the plan, because I had unexecuted plans from last year. That usual keen sense of anticipation was dulled by the year’s delay.

Generals fight the last war

I don’t expect last year’s electrical issues to return, but they could. The root cause is the motor mounts, and because I haven’t fixed the root cause it could recur. I think any competent Toyota mechanic should be able to fix it if they have the proper wiring diagram. So I put the wiring diagram, service manual, and parts catalog on a thumb drive on my keychain. I also carry a lot more spare fuses than I used to.

My other recent lost war was brake pads. I bought OEM pads instead of my usual CL RC5+. I had run many track days on those pads years ago. The fronts were gone, down to the backing plates after two sessions. I don’t have a good explanation for this. The car is now running on CLs. I have a spare front CL set and spare rear OEM set and all the tools I need to change the pads except for a jack.

By being prepared to fight the last war, I won’t have to fight it again. He said with confidence!

My planned departure date was Thursday. A week before departure, the forecast for Thursday was a 30% chance of precipitation. I looked at the forecasts for cities along my route and as I went east, the forecast temperature was higher, as was the chance of rain. As the days passed, the forecast worsened. By Monday, the weather wonks were predicting the worst winter storm in Denver in the last several years. So I left a day early.

Frankly, that should have been my plan from the start. Instead of two miserable days with far too many Interstate miles, I’d have three shorter days, mostly on back roads. And I could add the Clinton Museum to the itinerary as a bonus.

Enough prologue. Let’s hit the road.

Them’s the Brakes

I’m quite tardy with this post.

Last Saturday was another Emich sponsored day at HPR. Usually I sign up for just the afternoon. You get four sessions, with fewer cars each session. And you can sleep in. This time, though, I signed up for the whole day. It would be a “maximum” day: seven sessions.

Tires

I used up the slicks a year ago and since then I’ve been pondering what tires to put on the track wheels. Not slicks again, as I can’t drive to and from the track on them. And slicks are so much harder on the car. Anyway, I’ve been looking at the various alternatives and haven’t come to a decision. Because I loaned the wheels to Kevin for use on the Lemons car, I didn’t need to come up with a decision yet.

Kevin has solved the problem for me. He just bought another set of wheels for his Lemons car, so he returned mine. “Have fun with the tires,” he said. We didn’t use them in the Noah’s Ark race in June and our overheating issues in the September race resulted in running only 40 laps on them. Thanks, Kevin. Much appreciated.

They’re Advan Neova AD07 LTS2. The LTS2 means made for Lotus. The fronts are smaller than I normally use, 175s instead of 195s. I was thinking they were 200 treadwear tires, but they’re 180s.

These tires come with a few questions: How fast can I go on these tires? How will the narrower front tires affect me? How long will they last?

Only time will tell as to how long they’ll last. If I only do two or three days a year, they could last a couple of years.

As to expected lap times, I pulled a number out my ass: 2:10.

In the movie Rush, Niki Lauda says, “God gave me an okay mind, but a really good ass, which can feel everything in a car.” I’m pretty sure God didn’t give me a really good ass. By putting these tires on the car, I’m changing two things: the grip of the rubber, and the width of the front tires. Which means I’m changing the grip in the front a different amount than I’m changing the grip in the rear. Is my ass good enough to sort that all out?

On the way to the track, I’m not in any hurry. I’ll drive fast at the track, I don’t feel the need to go fast on the Interstate. The first guy who passed me who was clearly going the same place I was, zipped by at about 130 in a Porsche. A few minutes later, a string of BMW M3s, followed by a McLaren and an Audi R8. I caught all but the Porsche at the gas station. I finally picked up a decent gas can, a Kawasaki green 5-gallon one. About four gallons went into the car, and I filled the new can. Depending on the day, I can get 4 sessions on a tank, so with the can I will get 6 and probably 7, if I cut a session or two short by a couple of laps.

The Laps

When I got my wristband, I asked about the car count. Fred said he limits the day to 75, but we had less than 40. I’m guessing that’s really 60 cars – something like 20 morning, 20 afternoon, and 20 all-day. Good for me, my group wouldn’t be more than 20 cars.

I didn’t get out right away for my first session. I took it easy on the out lap, as the car was cold. I was cold, too. It was probably only 50 degrees F (10 C). I had my t-shirt and flannel on under my driving suit and a hoodie over it. It’s chilly at 110mph with the top off.

The first session, I caught up to a black R8. He pointed me by, then managed to keep up to me. That’s a much faster car than mine, and I reeled him in pretty quickly, so I was a little surprised to kept up with me. I was faster in the turns, but he could always catch me on the straights. He was about the only interesting traffic I dealt with.

After the first session, my wheels were dirtier than I expected. I’ve been spoiled with the CL RC5+ pads I’ve been using for the last seven or eight years. They’re relatively dust-free, and the dust is more gray than black.

I really enjoyed the second session. Because of the low car count, I was able to run quite a few laps without any traffic. I was consistently running in the 2:11s, thinking I could easily manage a 2:10 by the end of the day.

When a session is ended, the worker at turn 1 picks a car to be the first to get the checker flag. The lights at each bunker will display the checker as this car approaches it. I’m pretty sure they picked me to be the first car to get the checker for the first two sessions. Woo hoo! I won!

I try to treat my in lap as a cool-down lap, and never use the brakes. So it wasn’t until I pulled into my spot in the paddock that I heard the noise my front brakes were now making. I’d used them up completely.

The brakes

Regular readers may recall that I just put these pads on after my Atlanta trip. I used OEM pads rather than my usual CL RC5+, which nobody had in stock at the time. I had used the OEM pads for years before I switched to the RC5+s and never had any abnormal wear. They weren’t as good as the Carbon Lorraine pads, but they weren’t bad.

I have less than a thousand street miles on these pads, and no track miles before this morning. The fronts are completely gone. I’m lucky they didn’t score the rotors.

Halfway through the session, I was passed by a BMW race car. The owner came over and chatted with me. He said he was sorry he didn’t have a camera on his car, because he had a nice view of the smoke coming off my brakes when I was under heavy braking. He thought at first I was bedding in new pads. He asked if I had changed rotors when I changed the pad compound. I hadn’t. He suggested that this was the cause of my abnormal wear. That there’s some transfer from the pads to the rotor and if the new pad doesn’t play well with whatever the old pad put on the rotor, this could be the result.

When I last ran the OEM pads, my front rotors were drilled. My current rotors are slotted. Other than driving faster now than I did then, that’s the only change that comes to mind. Perhaps that’s part of the story? I doubt it.

So that was a disappointing end to my day.

Now, about the tires.

Turn 7 is a right-hand uphill sweeper. On my hard street tires, I take this in third gear, shifting into fourth as it levels off. On slicks, I’m in fourth at the bottom of the hill, well onto the high cam. In the second session, I was trying to figure out which was better with these tires. In fourth, I was barely onto the high cam and couldn’t really accelerate up the hill. If I could have entered the turn just a little bit faster, just a few more RPMs, I’d have been able to accelerate. Here’s where I think I felt the narrower front tire. I was getting a bit of understeer, and maybe the wider tire would have made a difference.

In any event, I’m quite happy with the tires. I have no doubt I’ll be able to get under 2:10 with them.

Chat with Pettiford

My day done mid-morning, I took a tour of the paddock. Mike Pettiford was there – he’s always there on Emich days – so I chatted with him a bit. He’s a driving instructor/coach.

Naturally, we talked tires.

He says he drives to and from the track on slicks all the time, even on thousand mile trips. I’m skeptical. I might believe he doesn’t get too much wear on the streets to and from HPR. But a thousand miles of highway driving? The original equipment tires for my car were 60 treadwear with giant tread blocks. They were good for about 2,500 street miles for the rears and not a lot more for the fronts. I can’t imagine that slicks would last as long.

When I mentioned rain, he shrugged it off. “I just go slow.” I got caught in a nasty storm on my way home on my street tires. Twenty miles an hour was too fast. Slicks would have put me in a ditch, or worse.

He doesn’t think much of me and my 460 tires. “What’s the point of having slow tires?” Not his exact words, but close enough. The other two guys in the discussion nodded. Different strokes. For me, the enjoyment is in driving the car as close to the limit as I can. With soft, sticky tires, the limit is a lot faster and with faster speeds are higher consequences. So I can get at least as much enjoyment out of hard tires as soft.

One other exchange got me shaking my head a bit, too. I’d mentioned that my top speed wasn’t any better on slicks than on other tires. One might think that having a higher speed on the exit of the turn before the straight would allow for higher speed at the end of the straight. That was his thinking. It’s not my experience. He didn’t say he doubted my statement, but he wasn’t convinced. The fact of the matter, though, is that top speed is related to horsepower. Slicks don’t give me any more power, so they don’t increase my top speed.

I ran three cameras on the car for the second session, but none for the first. I was thinking I’d rather have video of later sessions than early ones and didn’t think I’d be able to keep them all charged, so missing the first session was no big deal. First time with three cameras running. It’s probably better for a highlight reel than a lap.

I drove home trying not to use the brakes at all. Like a 70-mile cool-down lap. I didn’t need the brakes until I was a couple of blocks from the house, so I’ll call it a success. I found a set of pads (both axles) at Blackwatch and ordered them. I got a call from Fred at Blackwatch on Monday. “Your name is good and your phone number is good, we were just concerned about the email address. We didn’t want to send your order to Russian hackers.” He bumped me up to 2-day shipping.

I told Fred the story of my 18 lap brakes. He says the material transfer theory doesn’t work as the RC5+ are sintered and don’t transfer material the way other pads do. He said, “Maybe you’re driving faster now.”

I did the front passenger on Wednesday and the front driver on Thursday. I set a personal best on the time. Not a high bar, for sure.

The car is driveable now, but I can do the rears at my leisure.

It took me about an hour to clean the wheels. They’re much easier to clean when they’re not on the car, but they were the dirtiest they’ve ever been, not even close. And the dust was a deep black and didn’t always come off easily.

And, finally, the obligatory video. Sorry, I didn’t realize the OBD dongle in the car quit talking to my phone, so no data from the car.