La Junta, July 8

This year, CECA’s track day calendar features an event in La Junta. I’ve been wanting to go there for a while. I had considered attending a Porsche Club event there, but I never put much effort into making it happen. A CECA visit there makes it easy.

Scott wanted to go, too, so we caravanned on down. It takes about three and a quarter hours to get to La Junta from my place, so we left Friday afternoon and spent the night in a motel. You can either head south to Pueblo and take a left or head east to Limon and go south. I figured it was better to avoid Friday rush hour traffic on I-25, so we took the Limon route.

We caught up to a thundershower approaching Limon. When I drove through southeastern Colorado last month I passed through a bunch of small towns I’d only known from weather reports. Those reports generally involved hail or tornadoes. It occurred to me that there’s a small but real chance we’d find ourselves in such weather. My tires handled the rain easily, but Scott’s tires were more suited to the track, so we slowed down quite a bit.

We stopped for fuel and dinner in Limon. Without particular dinner plans, we took a target of opportunity: Oscar’s Bar and Grille was next door to the gas station, so we went there. The parking lot was pretty full, and the dining room and bar were packed. We found ourselves a seat at the end of the bar and got some menus.

The place was movie themed, as the name might suggest. They have an old 35mm movie projector by the hostess station when you come in, and movie posters adorned the walls. All the menu items were given the names of movies. The bacon cheeseburger is Grease. Halfway through our meal we got to watch a little scene as the bartender ejected a customer.

Dinner over, we headed back to the parking lot. There we met a father and son. “Are these your cars? We’ve been checking them out.” The father said, “I see you have GoPro mounts on your car.” I now have three of them glued on. One has been on for several years but this is the first time anybody has ever commented on them.

“I have them all over my truck. We’re storm chasers.” Amateurs, true, but storm chasers nonetheless. They’ve gotten as close as a hundred yards from twisters. He showed us pictures on his phone. “Here’s a tornado: see the striations in the funnel cloud? The debris flying through the air? This one was anti-cyclonic, fairly uncommon.” This is just another little example of how driving this car has affected me. I’d never have met these guys if I’d been driving the Chrysler.

Back on the road, a pretty sunset to our right, we headed south. The storm had continued its way to the east as we ate and our road was dry but for the occasional puddle. Lightning strobed the storm clouds to our southeast for the remainder of our trip.

We checked in to the Red Lion Hotel. It took us a while to track down somebody at the front desk. There was no doorbell, no bell on the desk. Eventually the clerk arrived. “The wifi password is written here. But the storm knocked out the internet.” Our room had no pictures on the wall, no mirror in the bathroom, none of the four lights above the beds worked, and there was a funny smell in the bathroom. Is it mold? Urine? Moldy urine?

In the morning we went in search of the track. My phone said it was just a half mile away. Even after Google Navigator has led me to believe it wanted me to dispose of my own body off a dirt road in Death Valley, I keep trusting its guidance. This time it led us to an automotive shop in a residential neighborhood. I knew as soon as we turned down the street that we weren’t in the right place. Scott got us on the right track, though, when he found something called “La Junya Raceway”. It looked to be adjacent to the airport, which confirmed for me that it was the right place.

I later learned from Alan, the track manager, why Google sent us to his shop. Google needs a mailing address. Evidently, they send a postcard to verify the address, and there’s no mail delivery to the track’s actual address so he used his shop’s address. I didn’t think to ask him about “La Junya”, though.

The registration email for the event indicated that entries for the day would be limited to forty cars. We fell far short of that with only fifteen cars by my count: a Miata, a Viper, a Camaro SS, a Mini, two recent Corvettes, a 2016 Challenger (Plum Crazy), a Corvair, a Porsche GT3, a recent Mustang and two classics, and three Lotus (me, Scott, and Ryan).

The track is built from some old airport assets – an apron and taxiways. As such, it’s flat with perhaps as much as five feet of elevation change. It’s also pretty short, at 1.2 miles. The track map indicates seven turns, but you could easily say turns 1 and 2 are really just one turn. They are all right-hand turns but one. In the drivers meeting, they characterized it as “easy to learn, difficult to master.”

I don’t know that I’d say it’s difficult to master, but it is more interesting than the track map might indicate. Turns one and two, as I said, are one big arc, with a transition from asphalt to concrete that is accompanied by a significant bump. The concrete isn’t exactly smooth, so the car is jittery under braking. Early on, I decided it might be possible for me to take the turn flat out, on the gas until the transition. I was able to do this several times, but typically found myself feathering the throttle.

I again failed to get fully successful in capturing video and data for the event. With the older GoPro, you can start recording immediately after turning it on. With the newer one, you have to wait several seconds before pressing the shutter. I was evidently impatient once as I missed getting a forward view for the second session. And, even though I retethered the OBDII dongle to the phone I again failed to get telemetry from the car.

Generally, CECA runs in three groups: green for novice, blue for intermediate, and red for advanced. I had signed up for blue (for people who have driven on a track, but not this specific track) but because there were so few cars switched to red. Also because there were so few cars, they combined the blue and green groups. With just the two run groups, we’d get something like a twenty minute session each hour. In the end, we got six sessions and everybody had had enough by three o’clock. The last session was just us three Lotus. I think other cars may have started the session, but it wasn’t long before I realized we were the only ones left.

I was prepared for the extra sessions – I brought extra gas. After lunch I went to pour it into the car but found the nozzle was malfunctioning. It’s one of those where you have to hook the end of the nozzle on the edge of the filler tube in the car and press down for the fuel to flow. The nozzle was stuck and every time I tipped the can up to pour, gas spilled all over the outside of the car. Scott let me use his gas can, so I poured his five gallons into my car then decanted my gas can back into his can. I managed to not spill much more gas.

The other notable event was when I blew my exhaust. After the fifth session, Ryan asked me if I thought my car was louder after the session than before. I said I didn’t think so. He said, “When I was behind you, you blew a big wad of packing out your tailpipe.” Reviewing the video, I can see that some packing is coming out the tailpipe in the first few sessions. Just a flash of white fiber every now and then. But in that fifth session, two big wads blew out. The camera is mounted very close to the exhaust and you can hear it happen. But it wasn’t audible to me inside the car, with my helmet on.

Luckily, I have the stock exhaust in the attic. I’ll put that back on while I research muffler repairs. I’m thinking I can get this one repacked cheaper than I can replace it. Michael will help me with the swap. Then I don’t need to feel under any deadlines to get it repaired. Let’s just say the budget was busted with the camshaft repair.

There are practically no facilities at the track. There’s a building with bathrooms and a classroom. There’s a small control tower and a flag tower at start/finish. Lunch is available from a concessionaire trailer. On the menu are “Magic Potatoes”. With a name like that, they must be good. And they were – baked, buttery, cut into chunks, with spices and a bit of bacon. They broke when stabbed with a fork, hot and delicious. Bill and Heike invited Ryan and I to sit in the control tower with them and enjoy the air conditioning. It was a capital idea, as the day was a bit warm and none of the picnic tables has shade.

I had a nice chat with Fred, who drove the Camaro SS. He has a number of track stickers on the side, mostly from around here but also including Laguna Seca, COTA. the Nürburgring, and Spa. I asked him if he’s driven this car on all those tracks. He said, “The kills follow the pilot.” He says he participates on some sort of car event, generally a track day, about twenty five times a year. I’m not sure why I find it reassuring when I find people who are more extreme about things than I am. If what I do is somewhat crazy, it’s good to know I’m not the craziest person around.

Ryan’s BFW

While Fred and I were chatting, a fellow and his four boys were interested in my car. Two were his kids, the other two were nephews. They were golfing nearby and heard the cars. “Put those sticks away, we’re going to find out what all that noise is about!” I had the kids take turns sitting in the car. I offered to take dad out for a few laps if he could find a helmet. Then, during lunch when they’re running parade laps, the youngest kid ran up to me. “My dad says I can ride with you on a parade lap!” So I belted him into the car and off we went. He could hardly see out the windshield, but his brother and cousins saw him. That made his day.

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