Mid-Ohio Trip – Naperville to Denver

Day 8 – Saturday, June 1

Slightly late start to the day. On weekends the hotel starts breakfast at 7 instead of 6. My plan was to have the car loaded before 7 so I could be out as early as possible without skipping breakfast but my route planning took a bit longer than expected.

First leg of the trip was to Clinton, Iowa, where I wanted to take a short break at a park by the Mississippi River. I took two lane roads almost the entire way; very easy driving. The park in Clinton was a hive of activity with some softball games going on. I walked maybe a half mile down the river, then back. US 30 crosses the river on a suspension bridge and the rail bridge is almost at the water line. It’s one of those bridges that has a center-pivot to let river traffic go by. I didn’t see this one in operation, but later when I crossed the Missouri I saw a rail bridge pivoted and open to river traffic.

Riverview Park, Clinton, IA

From the satellite photos, this little lighthouse is generally 70 or 80 feet from the water and there are four or five more light posts that are submerged. Clearly, the levees here are high enough to handle a lot more water. But if this were to be breached, the major part of this little town would be submerged.

US 30 bridge, railroad bridge, at Clinton

The next leg of my trip was from Clinton to West Branch for a quick visit to the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum. Again, two lane roads, this time almost all state routes rather than US highways. I don’t think I had to pass anybody the whole way from Naperville, other than in the towns. I’m sure I’m sounding like a broken record when I say how much more I prefer the small roads to the interstates.

I didn’t spend a lot of time at the library. I watched the film that they show hourly and toured the exhibits in the museum. And, of course, the gift shop. For some reason, they have a bunch of trinkets related to ancient Egypt. I don’t recall Hoover having any connections, but I could be forgetting. In the museum was a hunk of the Berlin wall. Again, I’m pretty sure he had no specific connection to the Berlin wall, but it was cool to see it. In general, I don’t go around touching museum exhibits, but I couldn’t resist this time.

Most of the building is off-limits to the public, so I had to ask: If I were to be writing a book about, say, Belgian relief, could I get access to the library? The answer was that all I’d need to do is get a research license, which is about as hard to obtain as a library card. In the mean time, I was free to ask any of the staff researchers questions and they’d do their best to respond. Interesting. Not that I’m planning on writing about Hoover. Or anybody else, for that matter.

Hoover grave site

The Hoover library is only a few hundred yards from I-80. I’ve driven by here many times and never bothered to stop. Or even notice how close it was. Add this to the long list of places I ignored because I was in too big of a hurry on the Interstate. The more I avoid those roads, the happier I am.

Third leg of the day was from West Branch southwest to join US 36 somewhere in Missouri, then as far west as I could get. I had the endpoint tentatively at Bethany, Missouri. I reached Bethany before 6:00pm; clearly too early to stop. In my first iteration of the plan, weeks ago, I was looking at St. Joseph. As it turns out, I made it to Hiawatha, Kansas, about forty miles farther.

One of the reasons I don’t drive after dark is the danger of animals. This was illustrated perfectly just a few miles before Hiawatha. I came upon what I thought was debris in my lane. It wasn’t obvious to me at first what it was. Then I saw it was moving. Slowly. It was a good sized turtle, moving from left to right and about where my drivers side tires belonged. I avoided it, and the smaller turtle a few yards past it, which had almost reached the shoulder. I sure hope they both made it. Frankly, I’m a bit amazed they didn’t get clobbered by the clump of traffic about a quarter mile ahead of me: two semis, two tour buses, a motorhome, and two cars. I have no idea how they all managed to miss both turtles.

My minor irritations with technology continued. As soon as I pulled up to the hotel, my phone decided it didn’t want to talk to anybody. I had no cell service and no GPS. At first I thought it was just the cell service that was lacking. But I saw other people yakking on their phones and spotted a cell tower a short distance away. All was good after rebooting the phone. I guess the day wouldn’t have been complete without some sort of technical glitch.

One of the key events of Herbert Hoover’s tenure as Secretary of Commerce was his relief work in the aftermath of the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927. This was the most destructive river flood in the history of the United States. Twenty seven thousand square miles of land was inundated and 630,000 people were displaced from their homes. To try to prevent future floods, the federal government created the world’s longest system of levees and floodways.

Yesterday, one of these levees failed in the West Quincy area, and other levees were breached along the Arkansas river as well. Luckily, I was in neither of those places and saw nothing so dramatic. However, I did drive by a huge amount of acreage that was under water. Not being from the area, I can’t look at a river and tell if it’s high compared to other severe flooding years, but every river I saw looked very high. At Clinton, all the access stairs leading down to the river were closed, and lampposts on the river side of the levee were under water.

In Missouri, just east of the Mississippi, there’s the Platte River. This is not the same one that flows through Denver an on through Nebraska. I didn’t know there was another one. This one is sometimes called the Little Platte River. This Platte was well out of its banks, flooding perhaps a half mile on each side of the river. Most of Iowa and Missouri that I traversed through the day was rolling terrain, so there wasn’t much flooding to see. But quite a bit of land on the Kansas side of the Missouri is flooded as well as large areas of Illinois that I drove through. Of course, I also mentioned flooding last weekend through the section of Illinois that I went through farther south.

We aren’t in need of someone to do what Hoover did 90 years ago (feed and house more than half a million people), although there are still quite a few people affected by the high water. But I think I can say that the levee system did what it was intended to do (regardless of other good or bad side-effects). In 2011, the Mississippi rose a foot higher than back in 1927. And the flooding along the Missouri this year is worse than it was in 2011. But the damage and displacement of people is far, far less than back then.

Today’s miles: 525 road Total miles: 2,254 road, 407 track

Day 9 – Sunday, June 2

A fairly straight-forward and uneventful drive through Kansas and eastern Colorado. I well remember last year’s range anxiety on this same road. Today I filled up in Smith Center, Kansas, three hundred miles to Byers. I’d been getting a bit over 33mpg and figured I could make it easily. Just the same, I topped off the tank at my lunch stop in St. Francis, at the last working gas pump before HPR.

Today’s miles: 524 road Total miles: 2,778 road, 407 track

Total trip miles: 3,185

Mid-Ohio Trip – Chicago

Day 7 – Friday, May 31

The weather guy on TV said the sky today would be “milky”. That’s not a description I recall hearing before. Turned out to be fairly apt.

When picking a hotel for my stay in Chicago my first consideration was to be roughly half way between downtown and Autobahn. That meant a western suburb. Next consideration was proximity to a train station. Without knowing anything about Chicago mass transit I had to ask around. Bob suggested the best way to go was on the Metra. This is an entirely different train system than the “L” operated by the Chicago Transit Authority. With this in mind, I picked a hotel just a few miles from the Naperville Metra station.

I didn’t want to have to get to the station early enough to find a parking spot, so I grabbed a Lyft. At the station, I was expecting to buy tickets from a machine. That’s how it works for the BART in San Francisco and the Metro in D.C. It works differently for Denver’s train system, at least the one I’ve ridden. There are no turnstiles but you still get your ticket from a machine. At the Metra station, you actually go to a ticket window and buy from a person. How quaint.

The train cars are tall double-decker affairs. The lower level is two seats on each side of the aisle. The upper level is one seat each side, with some seats facing forward and others that are jump seats that fold down, and you face the aisle. Up there, you’re on one side or the other as there’s no floor in the center. A conductor comes through and checks tickets, and from the lower level he can collect from the folks above.

The train deposits you in Union Station. The trains are below ground level and there are many platforms. Not knowing where to go I just let myself be carried along by the crowd, turning right and left, going up escalators, I finally was deposited on Adams St on the bank of the Chicago River. The general plan was to wander the public spaces by the Lake, then spend some time at the art museum and go to the observation deck at either the Willis Tower or the Hancock Tower. I could either find dinner downtown or head back to Naperville.

So finding myself on Adams St at the river was a good starting place. All I needed to do was walk a few blocks east and I’d be at the museum. It wouldn’t open for a while, so I’d have time to wander through the parks and gawp at the skyline.

Bean There, Done That

I didn’t have a clear sense of how the place is laid out, so I just started at the northwest corner and went around clockwise. This meant I’d start in Millennium Park. The big attraction here is “the bean,” which is actually called Cloud Gate. When I arrived there were only a few people. Great luck, I thought. I can get some pictures without a huge crowd. I managed to take one or two photos before a busload of kids showed up. Ah, well, so it goes.

A few yards south of Cloud Gate is the Crown Fountain. I don’t think I’d heard of this before. I’m pretty sure I’d remember it. There are two sort of obelisks that face each other with water cascading down the sides. And I literally mean “face each other.” They have human faces on them. The faces are animated. That is, they slowly change their expressions. Periodically, they purse their lips and streams of water pour from their “mouths”.

Heading toward the lake you come across the Jay Pritzker Pavilion, an interesting open-air venue, obviously designed by Frank Gehry. From there you can take a pedestrian bridge across Columbus Drive to Maggie Daley Park. It has all sorts of little nooks and crannies for kids to explore: forts and pirate ships, hall-of-mirrors gardens, sculptures, and so on. Heading south along Lake Shore Drive eventually takes you to Buckingham Fountain.

From here I crossed Lake Shore Drive and walked along the water’s edge. To the north you can see Navy Pier, to the south the planetarium, aquarium, and the Field Museum. Heading back west takes you through the south end of Grant Park. Before you get to Michigan Avenue you’ll find the loop’s railroad tracks below grade, out of sight. I skipped some of these little parks and worked my way back to the art museum, the Art Institute of Chicago.

It’s a big museum. I didn’t make it through the entire place, but I got close. I’m not the biggest art fan. That is, I like art, but there are some types that don’t appeal to me. So I was perfectly willing to skip various exhibits. As it turned out, I don’t think I skipped much. I’m not an expert on art or art museums by any stretch of the imagination, but I’d suggest that this is one of the top art museums in the world. Perhaps not “top ten” material, but not far from it. I was surprised how many of the works I recognized, and how many works by artists I recognized.

American Gothic on the left and Nighthawks through the doorway on the right

Among the exhibits that didn’t appeal to me are some of the works of modern art. This would include Jackson Pollack, who I suspect just sold his drop cloths. Another one was just a set of colored panels: a block of blue next to a block of red next to a block of green next to a block of white, or things to that effect. I don’t understand this stuff. Picasso may not be my cup of tea, but some effort obviously went into it. It’s a different view of reality, but there’s a viewpoint there, even if it doesn’t speak to me. A series of paint swatches seems like they’re just trying to pull one over on me.

The rest of the exhibits are amazing in one way or another. The miniature rooms were incredible. A woman did a series of rooms either based on real houses or her imagination that represented a place and time. Furnishings, art, lighting, rugs, views into adjoining rooms. I almost skipped that one and I’m glad I didn’t. I really liked the impressionists, too. The American art included quite a lot of furniture. “They don’t make them like that anymore” is an understatement. The level of craftsmanship is insane. The several rooms with armor and arms was great, too.

I did get a bit of a kick out of all the people taking pictures of the art. I’ve done this on occasion myself, to be honest. But these days I’m more interested in the room as a whole, or the people looking at the art. Because I can go on-line and find a much better picture than I can take of that Picasso.

The admission ticket that I bought for the art museum included a trip up to the Skydeck attraction at the Willis Tower. That’s the observation deck on the 103rd floor. I entered the building through the wrong entrance. A doorman there immediately asked if I was looking for the Skydeck. I jokingly asked him if he thought I looked like a tourist (because I obviously did: Hawaiian shirt, shorts, and a camera around my neck).

Other than the views, the attraction is The Ledge. They basically took out four windows and made bay windows with transparent floors. Groups of three or fewer people get sixty seconds, four or more get ninety. Everybody does it, so the line is long: maybe 20 minutes. I got to chatting with a group there where one of the guys wanted to do a handstand. He said he’s been doing handstands all over Chicago. Here, he was reluctant because he’s afraid of heights. I said, “Hey, don’t worry: nobody has fallen out the entire time I’ve been waiting here!”

I have a problem with heights, but this didn’t bother me

By now I was done. I’d been walking all day and I was looking forward to sitting down on the train. I managed to find the correct train without looking too much like a rube. I sat on the upper level this time, thinking there might be a view. There wasn’t. After some time, my phone rang. It was Bob. After chatting for a couple minutes I couldn’t help but notice that several people were giving me the evil eye for talking on my phone. I told Bob I’d call him back. Once off the train, I got the phone out and started to call a Lyft. As soon as it asked where I wanted to go, it told me I was down to 3% charge and shut itself off. (I left the hotel with a fully charged phone. Most days, it’s down to 55-60% by the end of the day. Some days it gets happy and goes through 90% by bed time. This day, it must have been positively ecstatic, to use 100% in 10 hours. And I hardly even used it.)

That’s just great. Not only can’t I call a car, I can’t even bring up a map to tell me which way to hoof it. I didn’t even really know how far it was. I was hoping it was closer to four miles than seven. On the way to the station I didn’t really pay attention to where we were going, but I did have a general direction. So off I went, expecting that I’d be able to stop at any number of places to ask for directions. I passed a Little Caesar’s Pizza place and a DQ. I considered going to the pizza place and ordering a pizza for delivery to my hotel, then catching a ride with the driver. But the line was out the door, as was the line at DQ. After that, I was in a residential area whose few businesses were all closed.

There were no other pedestrians and when a hippyish bicyclist came by I stopped him to ask directions. He told me I was going in the right way and that if I got to the highway I’d gone too far. I found the street I was looking for and soon found my hotel. The last hurdle to jump was the lack of a crosswalk across a multi-lane road with a high speed limit. As you may have guessed, I managed to cross without getting run over. Back in my room, I plugged in to recharge. I checked how far it was: less than three miles.

I had dinner at a brew pub next to the hotel and had a large beer.

More photos here.

Today’s miles: 0 road Total miles: 1,729 road, 407 track

Mid-Ohio Trip – Autobahn Track Day

Day 6 – Thursday, May 30

Autobahn Country Club is a country club that, instead of being focused on golf or tennis, is all about performance driving. Members there have access to a race track that can be run in three configurations (North, South, Full Course), a skid pad, and a go-kart track. They can build a garage on-site for all their toys. Most such facilities are open only to members and their guests, but Autobahn sometimes hosts club track days. When I started planning this trip, I thought it would be worth a shot to ask if I could lap there on a guest pass of some sort. After a few emails and phone calls, it was all arranged.

And so, here I am, ready to see how the other half lives.

It was a leisurely morning as I didn’t need to be at the track until 9am. On Thursdays they run a later schedule that varies through the summer, based more or less on when the sun sets. So my first session wouldn’t start until 10:20am. Before that, I needed to visit their instructor. It wasn’t to get any instruction, per se, but to cover all the stuff we usually cover in the drivers meeting.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. The clock radio in my room went off at 6:10 this morning, tuned to a Spanish language station. Much of this trip I’ve been getting up at 6:10, but today I wanted to sleep in a little longer. Didn’t happen.

Went downstairs for breakfast. Same fare as the hotel in Toledo, likely because it’s the same chain. The TV was on the news as it usually is in these places. I’m never particularly interested, but the weather report did catch my attention. They said that this May is now officially the wettest May recorded in Chicago history: a bit more than 8 inches of rain. We get about 14.5 inches of precipitation all year in Denver.

At the track, after getting registered at the front gate, I went to the clubhouse to introduce myself to Ron, the fellow who arranged for me to be here. He told me a bit about the place – when they opened, how many members they have, what improvements they’re working on, and so forth. Then he took me down to meet Tony Kester, one of their instructors. I guess you could call him their resident Stig. He raced professionally for some time, participating in the American Le Mans Series as well as at least one 24 Hours of Le Mans. (A golf club has golf pros, a tennis club has tennis pros, ergo a track club has race pros.)

We covered the usual drivers meeting material – flags, passing rules, passing zones, their LED lights, entering and exiting the track – and sent me on my way. I unloaded the car in an out of the way place. (“Over there by the bleachers is probably best. Members aren’t used to people laying out a bunch of stuff” as those who don’t have garages on-site probably trailer their cars.) Then I headed on to the track.

By now I had two wristbands. One said that I’d paid, the other that I’d had my meeting with Tony. (Presumably members get different color wristbands that indicate they only need the one.) The drill is to go to the end of pit lane and stop. Race control will have you sign in (actually, he just asked me my name) and when they’re ready they’ll release you onto the track.

The first session was horrible. Although it wasn’t raining, it rained overnight and there were rivers running across the track. Not just one or two, but nearly everywhere. At the time, I think there were only three turns that were dry. I crawled around the track. Even so, I was going sideways quite a bit. Not “sideways, this is fun!” but “sideways I’m not in control!” I put four wheels off once and was sliding around quite a bit. It was not fun.

As well, I managed to pick the wrong configuration for the lap timer so I wasn’t getting any data (I had selected the North course instead of the South course). In this case, good riddance. There wasn’t any worthwhile data from this session.

Back in the clubhouse I talked to Ron again. “Have Tony show you the wet line.” Great idea. We tracked Tony down. Rewind a bit here. When Tony and I had our little drivers meeting, somebody showed up and asked him if he gave rides to a couple of guys yesterday. “Yes, both at the same time. It was really wet. I don’t think they puked, but they sure looked sick.” So Tony gets a car (an Audi RS5 Quattro, I believe) and takes me for a ride.

The first time around he’s more or less on the line you’d take in the dry. Periodically, he’s doing massive steering inputs or abrupt throttle or brakes to see how much grip there is. It’s a little unsettling. The next two times around he’s following the “wet” line, which is taking the outside of the turn rather than hitting the apex. He was giving a running commentary: “It’s good here. Still pretty slick through here. You have to avoid this puddle” and so on. The wet line works most places, but not all. Anyway, I think I get the idea and he drops me off and puts the car away. His parting shot was, “It’s easier with all-wheel drive!”

While Tony was schooling me on the wet line, a Corvette was out on the track. Well, he was out part of the time. He put it well off the track in the same location I did, but while I was able to regain the track, he needed a tow. He gave up after that, having completed two laps. His times were in the three minute range, probably about what mine were.

After my lesson from Tony, Ron came and found me. He tells me he’s signed me up to drive their BMW M2 Competition Coupe for their touring lap session. In this session we’ll be driving around behind the pace car, not above 50mph or so. No helmet required. They have a Jag I’d like to drive, but Ron tells me it’s always reserved. So the M2 works for me. During the course of the day, several people tell me that’s their favorite car of the bunch. (They have a dozen or so cars for this purpose – Audi, Lexus, BMW, the Jag.)

By now I see that I’m the only one dumb enough to waste his time at the track today. It’s just too wet. And the consensus is that the track won’t dry out, and we may actually get more rain. I’m not exactly pleased. I’ve decided that this whole thing may be a waste of my time and money. If it’s not going to get any better, I may as well leave and do something else. I was pretty down.

But I go out for another session. It’s still wet almost everywhere. I can’t follow the line I’d like to learn: the fast way around a dry track. I can’t turn in where I want, or apex where I want, or brake where I want, or even shift where I want. I’m always looking for the water. It’s drying out a little. I think. Maybe. But I manage to keep it on the track. For a long time. Technically, each run group is given a twenty minute session. But because I’m the only idiot out there, they’ll let me run until I give up. So after 35 minutes I give up. The good news is, I manage to steadily improve.

At lunch time I discover that I’ve somehow lost my credit card. It’s not my only one, so it’s just a pain in the ass and not a total disaster. No idea how I’ve lost it. I didn’t leave it at registration, and haven’t had to use it since. Where could it have gone? Anyway, after lunch is the touring lap session. Just as I’m finishing my sandwich, a gentleman comes by to give me the keys to the BMW. Well, a key fob anyway. There’s no such thing as a car key any more. Then he says, “Not to be demeaning or anything, but do you know how to put this car in park?”

Move the gear selector to “P”? This is not the correct answer. “When you pull into the parking space, leave it in drive and turn it off.” We head off to the cars for the laps. It takes me a few seconds to figure out how to get it into drive. Old dog, new tricks, I guess. It has paddle shifters but I don’t even try to figure this out.

BMW M2 Competition Coupe

Heading on to the track it’s the pace car, another BMW, me, and the Jag. We’re following the dry line even though there’s still quite a few wet spots and puddles. After a few laps it’s pretty obvious to me that we’re doing pretty good lap times. We’re not going very fast down the straights, but we’re not really slowing for the turns. I manage to dig my phone out of my pocket and get the timer running. I didn’t try to turn off any driver aids, but perhaps not all the nannies were enabled. I managed to get it somewhat sideways through the puddles a few times, as did the other BMW driver.

By the time we exit the track my soul has been a little bit crushed. Our parade laps were faster than what I managed the previous session. When I got out of the car, the other BMW driver was talking to Kyle, who was driving the pace car. “Thanks for those last two laps!” Kyle winked and said, “We never went over 50, did we?” Then I showed him my lap timer and my times from my previous session. He laughed (not in a malicious way). It is somewhat funny.

I got to talking with Kyle. He noticed my HPR hat and asked how I liked the place. He says he’s been wanting to run there but hasn’t been able to make it work yet. I told him about the facilities, that it’s a bit crude (no running water, for example) but that the track itself is great. He said he’d worked at a place like that: in the middle of nowhere and porta-potties instead of toilets. I asked him where that was. “Oregon Raceway Park”. Hey, I’ve been there!

By the time of my next session, the sun had been shining for a while, and we had a little breeze. The track was very nearly dry. I started really trying to get on it, on the dry line. There were still a few places where I couldn’t do it, where I had to adjust to avoid some water, or tiptoe through a turn to avoid spinning, but I was easily faster than before. All my laps were under two minutes, and my best was 1:53.27. Not a particularly fast lap, but maybe better than I’d have done in my first session had it been dry all day.

I had two more sessions after that. I improved my time to 1:48.05. In the clubhouse, they have a screen that is constantly updated with members times. All (or maybe just most) members run with transponders. Their times are displayed on a large monitor. I don’t have a transponder, of course, so my times weren’t included. But by now there were two members out running their spec Miatas. They were lapping in the 1:43’s. Tony asked me which Miatas they were. I described them and he said they were both very good drivers. He thought my time was pretty good given the conditions, my tires, and my lack of experience on this track.

Yours truly

In my penultimate session, I managed to kill another bird (my second on this trip). For a short while I was concerned it was stuck to my car somehow, mashed into the grill or something. Next time around the dead bird was in the middle of the track. At least is wasn’t in a place where I was going to run over it again.

In the last session I failed to improve my time. I got close, but couldn’t best it. (I’d have liked to run a few more laps, but I timed it perfectly. At the gas station down the street I pumped 9.8 gallons of gas into my 10 gallon tank.)

I finished the day with a beer in the clubhouse, packed up all my stuff, made a final search for my missing credit card, and hit the road. My first stop was the gas station a couple miles down the road. I’m glad it wasn’t any farther: I poured 9.8 gallons of gas into my 10 gallon tank.

My last session started at 6:05, so I didn’t leave the facility until about 7. On the way back to the hotel, at a stoplight a guy in the next lane told me my right headlight is out. So now I’m missing the right front turn signal and right headlight. There’s no damage from the bird strike, so I guess I’m just lucky all my lights are going dim at the same time. (Luck is when bad things happen; everything else is skill.)

Addendum: I found my credit card a couple days later, and now all the turn signals are working again. So it’s just the headlight.

Today’s miles: 72 road, 126 track Total miles: 1,729 road, 407 track

Autobahn Impressions

This is a very nice facility. This is the third track I’ve been to that is “members only”. The first was ORP, mentioned above. When I was there, it was more primitive than HPR. The other is Woody Creek, also very primitive. Nothing primitive about Autobahn.

The track is more or less what I expected. We’re in Illinois, so I was expecting it to be as flat as a tabletop. It did have some subtle elevation change, just enough to catch the eye but not enough to challenge the driver. Drainage was a bit of a problem, but as alluded to earlier, this was the rainiest May recorded for the area. In addition to the rivers that ran across the track there were several places where the water percolated up through the asphalt. They really have worked hard on drainage, but what can you do in extreme conditions?

For most of the day, I had the place to myself. The aforementioned Corvette made two laps, and a couple of Miatas ran maybe a dozen laps each. When they left the track, they headed to their garages. So I never met another driver all day. I met quite a few Autobahn employees in the clubhouse, and perhaps one or two members who were there but not driving. The lack of other drivers to talk to was largely due to the track conditions.

Having the place to myself was a bit odd. It was great not having to deal with any traffic at all. Every lap was unimpeded. That’s never happened to me before and probably never will again. On the other hand, track days are very much social events. I like wandering around the paddock talking to the other drivers. Mine was the only car in the paddock. But I’m sure if the conditions had been more normal I’d have had somebody to talk to.

I’m not a man of the means required to be a member. My guest pass was a one-time thing, as a courtesy to an enthusiast passing through. If I lived in the area, I’d go back for a club day (North Woods Shelby Club runs there). I think it’s great that they open the facility up to non-members occasionally.

In spite of the rocky start, I had a great time. Everybody was friendly and made me feel at home. So I give a tip of the hat and a hearty “thank you” to Ron and the rest for hosting me.

Mid-Ohio Trip – Toledo to Naperville

Day 5 – Wednesday, May 29

I was awakened during the night by a brief thundershower, but wasn’t curious enough about the time to actually check. A lazy morning, sleeping in and taking my time to get going. A nice breakfast, as far as these things go (eggs, sausage, fruit, bagel).

I visited with Joan, Junior, and Susie before leaving Toledo at noon. Because I wanted to take a break at Indiana Dunes National Park it seemed expeditious to violate Rule #1 and utilize the interstate. In this case, it’s not just interstate, but turnpike. In retrospect, I’m not sure it was worth it. I had to pay $11.25 in tolls between Ohio and Indiana. There were several construction zones that slowed things down, the road surface was some of the worst of the trip, and truck traffic was so heavy they were running nose to tail in groups of six to eight the whole way. On top of that it’s monotonous; I really fought to stay awake. Back roads might have taken me thirty or forty minutes longer, but I’m sure would have been better.

I took a lunch break at one of the service plazas there. I always try to get a seat with a view of my car. Not because I want to watch the car but because I want to watch people looking at it. People go out of their way to check it out. Highlight this time was when a father took a picture of his 6 or 8 year old son standing next to it. (And another one, a few miles from my destination: in a car next to me at a light, the father asking the son if he sees my car. “It’s a green race car just like the one you have. Can you see it?” Then he turns to me and says “Nice car!”)

I’ve been fighting technology the whole trip. Navigation by phone has not let me down on the cross-country drive. (I nearly credited that to having brought an atlas with me, but that can’t be the reason because I managed to leave it in the motel in Mansfield.) But things have not been all roses. At Ruth’s I tried to bring up a map of nearby motels. It kept showing me motels in Mansfield. But I’m not in Mansfield! “Maps is off-line”. Tried to connect to her WiFi but my phone didn’t see it. Managed to find a hotel almost at random. In the hotel I couldn’t connect to the internet. But if that’s my biggest complaint on this trip, I can live with it.

On the plus side, getting through Chicago, I imagine, is much better with the navigational aid. Had I had to do this the old-fashioned way, I’d have picked a route before hand and had to stick with it regardless of delays. It would have had to have been a simple route with minimal turns. Anything complicated would require a passenger to keep me on route. But with satnav, when there was a delay it rerouted me, and the final route was actually quite pleasant: along a section of the Little Calumet River and through the Waterfall Glen Forest Reserve (passing by the Argonne National Laboratory).

On I-94 I saw a red car stopped on the side of the road. Too late I identified it as a Ferrari. Had I seen what it was quickly enough I’d have pulled over and stopped. I’m pretty sure I’d have been totally unable to provide any assistance unless the guy’s cell phone was dead.

Today’s miles: 288 road Total miles: 1,657 road, 281 track

Diversion: Indiana Dunes National Park

This was a very brief visit, so I’m sure I’m not seeing the whole picture.

It’s an interesting little park. It lies along about fifteen miles of Lake Michigan shoreline. It’s not a big park, but it’s one of the most botanically diverse of the National Parks. It’s also one of the newest. I was wondering how I had never heard of it until I looked it up: it became a National Park in February of this year.

Great Marsh, south of the dunes

I intended to take a very short hike, about three quarters of a mile on the Dune Ridge trail. From the map it’s pretty straight-forward. A lollipop: hike south from the parking lot to a junction, go to the right, make a loop, return to the junction and take another right turn to return to the parking lot. But it wasn’t that simple. Somehow I never made it back to the trail junction. Instead, I found myself north of the parking lot, overlooking the shores of Lake Michigan.

Well, that saved me the trouble of getting in the car and finding my way to the beach. And it was probably twice the distance I intended on hiking, so that’s good. I made my way down to the beach and walked west a bit. There I met a man who was clearly searching for something. I asked him what he was looking for. “Rocks. I collect interesting ones for my garden. My wife sent me out today to get more red ones!” While we chatted, he found one that looked to have some fossils in it and one that was a piece of beach glass, along with a few others of a variety of colors.

I never did see anything resembling the sort of sand dunes I had imagined. I was thinking along the lines of actual piles of sand. Like the Great Sand Dunes in Colorado, or the Imperial Sand Dunes in California. These dunes are considerably different. They’re covered with vegetation. It’s only obvious they’re sand where they’re eroding. They have signs up saying not to walk on the dunes. The trails I walked were sandy only in a few places. Not at all what I expected.

Keep Off Dunes

To the south is some wetlands. I’m not sure if there’s more water there now than usual, given all the flooding I’ve seen elsewhere. The vegetation on the dunes isn’t exactly sparse; it’s like walking through a forest with lots of ferns as ground cover. Also appears to be something like blackberry brambles, although I don’t know what for sure. And they regularly do controlled burns there, so there’s lots of charred wood on the ground. I saw only a very few wildflower types and no animals. I did hear quite a few different bird songs, but never saw the birds. I understand it’s a popular place with the Chicago bird watching crowd.

It was a brief stop, but well worth it.

More photos here: Indiana Dunes National Park

Mid-Ohio Trip – Mid-Ohio Track Days

Day 3 – Monday, May 27

I was out the door by 6:30. I grabbed a spot in the paddock and went looking for where the meeting would be. I was early and watched some of the late check-ins, including a fellow who drove his McLaren from Ontario. He didn’t have a tech sheet with him, so they gave him one. He signed it and handed it back. “You need to check the boxes”.

McLaren 600LT

Meeting was at 7:15, all the usual stuff.

In the paddock, I ran into Ken, the only other Lotus in attendance. There were several others registered, all Exiges, but all but Mark canceled. That was a little disappointing. I’m used to seeing a bigger Lotus turn out.

My paddock neighbors were Mark and Don. Mark trailered in his Corvette, Don trailered in his S2000. Both very nice gentlemen. Don had a couple of 5-gallon gas cans and before we went to lunch we used one to fill my tank, then when we went for food we refilled it so he was back to his full allotment. I was a bit surprised that I took the whole 5 gallons. From the gauge it looked like I only needed 4. After running the two afternoon sessions, I was about to pull onto the track for “happy hour” and noticed that I was reading empty and the light was on. So I didn’t run. Later, when leaving the facility, the gauge read about a third of a tank. When I fueled up, I had four gallons left in the tank. Oh well.

Our first session was under full course caution, and everybody ran. I was immediately concerned as I thought it was extremely slippery. The consensus is that it’s a low-grip track. It got better as it warmed up, and by the time my group was out conditions were about as good as they’d get. It was pretty slick, but not any worse than, say, Portland was. By the time I’d run a couple of sessions at speed I was comfortable with the grip level.

Ken on the start/finish straight

For the two morning sessions I didn’t bother running the cameras. I was still trying to figure the place out. The organizers said they’d try to find an instructor for me, but I told them part of the fun for me was figuring it out on my own. This struck them as out of the ordinary. Why not get the advice of an experienced driver and get up to speed quicker? Different strokes.

After lunch, after Don and I got back to the track from our Subway/BP run, the novice group had a second classroom session. I had skipped the first one. This second one included a turn-by-turn analysis of the track. I figured it would be good for me. It was helpful. The best thing, in my mind, was that I’d figured out most of what he told us. One thing that I hadn’t started doing but knew I needed to, was using the curbs more. Most of them are quite flat. He told us to get a good time here you’ve got to treat the curbs as part of the track. For the rest of the day I took that advice. The only other helpful tip I hadn’t already figured out was gear selection for turn 11. I was taking it much too slow. He said that’s the most “under driven” turn on the track (everybody tends to take it too slow).

I was running in the Green group with the novices. We had forty cars in each group, I believe. That’s a busy group. I may have gotten a clean lap in my third session, I’ll have to look at the video. I didn’t get a clean one in the fourth. In spite of that, I managed my best time of the day in that session: 1:53.33. My goal is to lap in the 1:52’s, so if I get a few clean laps I should be able to reach it.

I have to spend a lot of time in my mirrors because there are so many fast cars in the novice group. I think the only car in my group with less hp is a Miata. There’s a Mini (I met the owner at the restaurant last night), he’s turbocharged and has more hp but is heavier. Then it’s Porsches, Mustangs, and Corvettes. Oh, and the McLaren. There was a WRX and a couple of BRZ’s (or variants). Some of the Mustangs and Corvettes were slower, but I think they were all more capable cars. One of these Vettes pointed me by then dragged me down the straight so I couldn’t pass him. (Yes, I specifically brought this up during the meeting.)

The weather couldn’t have been better. It was a bit warm, but not hot. It was dry, although the consensus is that we’ll see rain tomorrow. I talked to a couple of Porsche guys who will swap today’s slicks for something with tread for tomorrow. I’ll happily run in the rain. (Easy to say that now, never having done it.) It will send a lot of people home, that’s for sure.

A good, fun day.

For dinner, pulled into a Mexican place across the street from the motel. It was closed. Plan B was Arby’s, two doors down. It was also closed. I ended up at Bob Evans and had breakfast for dinner.

Today’s miles: 18 road, 134 track Total miles: 1,235 road, 134 track

At the front gate

Day 4 – Tuesday, May 28

For the most part, today was much like yesterday. Only muggier. Uncomfortably warm. The same temperature at HPR would be comfortable but the humidity made it not so much fun for me. It wasn’t bad, just not like yesterday.

KTM X-Bow GT4

One item at the drivers meeting was an instructor saying he saw some drivers waving “thanks” for a point-by. Here with Chin this is a no-no. Drivers need to keep both hands on the wheel. I was one of those drivers. Near the end of the day I mentioned this to a couple of the other guys and they said they thought it’s not a big deal. These things happen on the straights and not in the turns. I noticed that nobody gave me a “thank you” wave yesterday, so I realized it was different in this group. But even after it was mentioned this morning, late in the somebody did give me a “thanks”. So I wasn’t the only one.

Yesterday I don’t think I got a clear lap the whole day. I probably got a few, but it was a very busy day passing and being passed. Had you asked me yesterday if there was a way to improve things, I’d have said “fewer cars”. We started with forty cars in each group. That’s more cars per length of track than I’m used to.

Ferrari

I purposely didn’t make any attempt to move up to the blue group. Two reasons: I was comfortable with this group and by now was accustomed to their behavior and if a few drivers did move up, that would be more guys running blue and fewer running green. And that showed up today. I had several long sequences of clean laps. Maybe not fully unencumbered, but I did feel I had lots of “clean air”.

Today my best lap was 1:50.30, which exceeded my goal by quite a bit. This was in the fourth session. I’m quite happy with these results. Unfortunately, neither camera was running as the batteries died in both of them. I’d moved the old camera to the nose and the new one to the rear mount hoping to get a greater sensation of speed, but got nothing instead. I’ve had one camera poop out on me, but never both. I’d even swapped out the spare battery for the old camera and had the new one plugged in and charging. So it goes.

Incidents of note. In the second morning session, I was reeling in Don. I caught him early but there was quite a bit of traffic, some we caught, some caught us. By the time we’d cleared it, I thought he’d worked quite a way ahead but I found myself right up with him. He’d been having minor clutch problems and was ending his runs a lap or two before the sessions ended. When he pointed me by, instead of ending his run he decided to stay out for another lap so he’d get some good footage of me. He was right with me from the start/finish to the chicane, but when I got on the back straight he was nowhere to be seen. Next time around I saw him parked on the infield.

I was concerned something bad happened, as he never moved again. Turns out he just ran it out of gas.

By the end of the day, most folks had cleared out. So the last session was great and I was looking forward to “happy hour” when everybody can run (and we use green group passing rules). Don donated a couple of gallons to me so I didn’t have to worry about suffering his fate. For those laps, I ditched the hot fire suit and went out in shorts and t-shirt (but still with gloves). I was much more comfortable. That comfort ended when it started raining. In reality, I’d be better saying that it started sprinkling. I was getting raindrops on the windshield, but I’d had this much rain at HPR and it was really no big deal.

Everybody who’d run here in the rain said it was really slick. I figured they were exaggerating. The first drops hit my windshield about turn 1. Coming out of the keyhole I half spun the car, coming to a rest in the middle of the track, facing 90 degrees to the right. I got going quickly and continued at a somewhat reduced speed, only to nearly do it again in the next turn. I thought I was going to go off sideways (which I never want to do) but managed to somehow keep it on track. That was enough for me, and I made my way, slowly, back to the paddock. I think everybody else did the same.

The rain looked quite threatening and as I started packing up it really began to come down. So I packed up in a bit of a rush. Just as I was finishing up it quit raining, at least here at the track.

I headed to Toledo. Leaving the track I had short journeys along state routes, then followed a combination of US 30 and US 23 through some heavy weather. Big lightning strikes were hitting in the near distance, but somehow the highway turned slightly each time to avoid the worst of the rain. I did encounter a short cloudburst that had traffic down from 75mph to more like 40, but never hydroplaned. Finally, a short Rule #1 violation up I-75. Had a nice visit with Ruth and Loral. Found a motel and checked in.

Porsche

Chin Motorsports

This event was put on by Chin Motorsports. They do these a a long list of tracks east of the Mississippi. They run a well-organized event. As is usual, it’s a bit on the expensive side compared to home, but that’s mostly because I’m spoiled here. It’s more everywhere than here. This one was more than either of the Hooked On Driving events, and like them you need to buy an annual membership. This two day event plus the membership would get me three full days plus half a day of open lapping at HPR.

There were a lot of high dollar cars here, probably the most expensive crowd I’ve run with. Not a LeMons car to be seen. Quite a few of the cars were fully prepped race cars. I saw a Miata with a hammer and sickle on the hood and wanted to talk to the driver. He left not feeling well. When I saw it back out on the track I thought he’d returned. But no, the guy driving the car was his coach, working on some setup changes. So it’s a bit of a different crowd than I’m accustomed to.

They had plenty of instructors on hand and at least three classroom sessions for the novice drivers. Everyone followed the rules and there were no incidents that I’m aware of. Certainly no contact, either car vs car or car vs wall. The only yellow flag during any of my sessions was for when Don ran out of gas. In the meetings we were told to expect blue flags but I never once saw one, so I’m guessing they use them at some of their other tracks.

They had a photographer there. I glanced through his shots of me but passed. His prices were a bit lower than the other guys doing this, but I’ve already blown my budget for this trip. I tried to talk him into giving me five or six shots for twenty bucks. His counter offer was one for twenty. As long as it was cash.

Today’s miles: 134 road, 147 track Total miles: 1,369 road, 281 track

Mid-Ohio Trip – Denver to Mansfield

Day 1 – Saturday, May 25

Before heading out I was feeling a bit of … trepidation isn’t the right word. More like low-grade anxiety. A good chunk of the center of the country has been getting hit with nasty weather the last several days. Tornadoes, some fatal, have hit Missouri, and that’s where I’m spending the night. I didn’t make hotel reservations because I didn’t know how far I’d get. My goal was Monroe City, and as it turned out I easily made it another 30 miles or so to Hannibal, right on the Mississippi River. Not that I’ve seen it yet; my motel is ten or twelve miles away. So far the weather has been good. My phone tells me no precipitation is expected in the next two hours. We’ll see.

I picked what I thought was a fairly cheap motel, at least according to Google. All I’m after is a bed and shower. When I got here, there were only four rooms left, all smoking. I’m surprised anybody still offers smoking rooms. I’m not happy, but it’s a room, and I’ve been in worse. It turned out to be on the more expensive end, about what I’d expect to pay in these parts for a Marriott property.

I can’t get internet here in the room. It never challenges me for a password. I managed to connect down in the lobby, but shortly after returning to the room I lose it. At least I managed to plan my route for tomorrow.

Today’s route was US 36 the entire way. Here in Missouri it’s four lane divided highway the whole way. Not exactly like an Interstate, as it’s not limited access. And although there were trucks, there weren’t many. Through Colorado and most of Kansas I couldn’t have asked for much better conditions. It’s not hot yet, so the clear blue skies and bright sunshine weren’t a problem. And there was almost no traffic at all. There’s an event going on at HPR, so I followed a Porsche with a giant rear wing from the gas station in Byers to the track, but after the track I didn’t see another vehicle going my direction until I got into the small towns of western Kansas.

Before reaching Kansas, I saw a fox crossing the highway in front of me. Close enough to easily identify it as a fox, but not close enough to worry about hitting it. Shortly after that, I saw a couple of pheasant standing on the shoulder of the road. At first I thought they were turkeys, but they weren’t that big, and were slender. I was a bit surprised they didn’t take off as I passed them.

Nearing the Missouri River there was quite a bit of standing water on the fields. Sometimes just large puddles, other times it was acres of field under water. I didn’t get much of a look at the Missouri and I don’t really know what it normally looks like, but it seemed it was running high. A few of the other smaller rivers I crossed, again just glimpses, looked like the trees along the banks were in the water. Tomorrow I’ll start my day with a short visit to Riverview Park here in Hannibal and get a good look at the Mississippi.

When I do my trip planning, I typically check the box to avoid highways. What I really want is “avoid Interstates”. I didn’t give it much thought, and was under the impression they were the same thing. But the other day when scouting routes for the return trip, I noticed that it was keeping me off US 36 here in Missouri. It’s not an Interstate, but it is a four lane divided highway. I’m not sure they’re consistent on this. I drove quite a few miles on US 20 through Iowa last year on my Road America trip, and that’s more Interstate-like than US 36 is here.

For tomorrow, I could easily take Interstate most of the way. But I find it so much more pleasant to take the smaller roads; I’ll gladly trade some time for the near elimination of traffic. I find it much less stressful to take the scenic route than the super-slab.

I hit another bird today. What is it about this car that causes me to hit so many birds?

Today’s miles: 660

Day 2 – Sunday, May 26

I was awakened by a peal of thunder at 4:15. I didn’t hear any tornado sirens, so that was good. But I wasn’t exactly sure I’d hear any if they were sounding. I glanced out the window and things didn’t look too bad so I went back to bed.

Breakfast wasn’t scheduled to be available until 6:30, so I loaded up the car first. It was raining pretty good. I was in the breakfast area by 6:25 and people were already eating. So I loaded up a plate with sausage gravy and biscuits, some sort of cheesy scrambled eggs, and potatoes. Then back up to the room to brush my teeth and I was on the road by 6:54.

By now the rain had slackened somewhat. But I quickly fogged up the interior of all the cockpit glass. Cracking the windows didn’t help much, and neither did the defroster. Good thing I carry a towel with me. Usually it’s in the boot, but I had anticipated just such a situation and had it in the cab with me.

I found my way to Riverview Park easily enough. It’s a dark forest early in the morning in the rain. I found a place with a view of the river (not as obvious as you might think, given the park’s name) and took a look around. It was still raining, so I didn’t hang around. Had it been nicer, I’d have explored the park a bit more. I was hoping to see some barges on the river. I did see some when I was back on the highway, crossing the bridge, but they weren’t visible from the overlook I visited.

Mississippi River, Riverview Park, Hannibal, MO

The first section of the drive was on the Interstate. My biggest issue with interstate highways is the truck traffic. There was none this morning, so I was unbothered.

My planned route had me heading north on I-172, but Navigator decided to send me farther east on I-72 instead. This turned out to be an interesting route. My first intermediate destination was Havana, IL, on the Illinois River. The route I ended up following was IL 100, along the western shore of the river from Beardstown to Havana. The river was well outside its banks through here, but it looks to me like they’re prepared for this and perhaps it’s a regular occurrence. One house on the river side of the road was built on stilts, and many of the trees along here were standing in water.

As it was, I crossed the Illinois River three times. Once on the interstate and twice on US routes. These two bridges are older, steel girder bridges. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so I won’t say these old bridges are more beautiful. It could be argued that the newer bridges have a simplistic beauty to them. But I find these steel girder bridges more interesting.

Writing up these notes and referring to the map, I see that I narrowly missed visiting Lotus, Illinois. I passed within a few miles of it, but it’s so small it never appeared on any signs. Had I been on the correct road I’d have had to make a short detour. I doubt it is big enough to merit a post office; from the satellite photo it looks to be a grain elevator and about six houses, about a thousand feet from the highway. Presumably, there’d have been at least a sign of some sort. Oh, well, I’ll never know.

My third intermediate navigation point was Logansport. (The second wasn’t interesting enough to get a comment.) I generally edit my route for these navigation points so that I stay on the highway rather than detouring through town. I’m glad for this one that I didn’t. Logansport sits beside the Wabash river and my route was on a side street on the south bank of the river. It, too, is running high, submerging one of the islands in the middle of the river.

The rest of the trip was fairly boring. US 24 and US 30, with a short shot on I-469. Both 24 and 30 may as well have been interstates, being four-lane divided highway, often limited access. In Ohio the speed limit was 70.

I made good time. Rather than having the motel as my destination, I had the track. Chin Motorsports does registration and tech the night before, but I figured I’d miss that, arriving after 6. But today’s event there (either NASA or PCA, I heard both) went late due to some weather and when I arrived I found myself at the end of a long line waiting to get in. So rather than just taking a picture of the sign and heading to the motel, I waited around, got registered and teched. Tech inspection amounted to me giving them my completed form and them checking that the number on the car matches the number on the form.

After checking in at the hotel, I found a gas station and a restaurant. So I’m all ready to go in the morning. It’s about a 20 minute drive to the track, and the drivers meeting is scheduled for 7:10, so I’ll try to be out the door by 6:30. That should give me time to find a spot in the paddock.

Today’s miles: 557 Total miles: 1,217

Photo Gallery

Even long-time readers of this blog may not have known I have an accompanying gallery of photos. Actually, the gallery predates the blog by a long time. I first started it when my website was self-hosted. When I moved to hosting by Godaddy, I had to stop using the software that ran the gallery and convert to one of Godaddy’s canned solutions. Then that solution had a major upgrade and I faced a manual migration.

I looked at the available choices and decided to go with the new version of the one I’d been using for a while. That was several years ago. In the interim, that one got abandoned by the developers and has been “in hibernation”. I’m not sure what that really means, other than it’s no longer supported. But it has been working, so I haven’t been too worried about it.

Bottom line, I have been neglecting the gallery. For the most part, it was just pictures of places I’ve been in RMNP. I’ve failed to update it with photos from many of my recent hikes there. And I’ve been to lots of other places and I want the gallery to reflect that. I had some nebulous plans as to how I’d organize it, but inertia was difficult to overcome. Also, what I had was inconsistently titled and tagged and I’d provided only about half the descriptive information I wanted.

I finally overcame the inertia. My first decision was whether to migrate to a new solution or not. I am accustomed to the old system, but it had a time worn appearance. Sure, it was unsupported, but one of the realities of using free solutions is that I could switch to something else and there’s no guarantee I wouldn’t be in the same situation tomorrow. I had a good idea of how much effort it would take to get the current one updated but I didn’t want to think about how much more it would take to migrate.

So the decision point comes down to how much effort do I want to put into this project to a) get on a supported product, and b) improve the look and feel and perhaps functionality of it. My choices are pretty limited: Coppermine, Koken, Piwigo, TinyWebGallery, and Zenphoto. After looking at some examples and some documentation, I fired up an instance of Koken and started playing around with it. It didn’t take long to decide to go with it.

I now have everything migrated, and have filled in most of the gaps that I had in my legacy project. I figure I’m somewhere between two-thirds and four-fifths complete. It will have three main areas: Landscapes, Cityscapes, and Machines. The first two are fundamentally complete. I still need to put some thought into how to organize, categorize, and tag the Machine area.

I’ve updated the blog pages that link to the gallery, but I haven’t done much more than test the links the other way, from the gallery to the blog. It has a look and feel that’s much closer to the blog than before, and I do like a few of the new features that are available, even though I did have to give up some minor functionality.

If you’re so inclined, poke around the new gallery. Feel free to leave a note here if you have any suggestions or complaints.

Emich Rant

Sunday, April 28

I registered for the afternoon session of the most recent Emich sponsored track day. After all the changes we made to the car, it’s only prudent to get her out on the track before I drive cross-country for events at Mid-Ohio and Autobahn.

I’ve done a few Emich days before. In fact, my last track day was an Emich day. That didn’t end well. I was running on slicks, made a minor driver error, spun the car and broke the motor mounts. Aside from that, I thought it was a pretty good day: everyone was fairly well-behaved and each track session had less traffic than the one before as many of the folks who registered for the full day got tired and left.

But this may be the last.

When I picked up my wristband I asked about the car count. “Seventy or so. Not too bad.” If equally divided between novice and experienced, that’s three dozen cars on track at the same time. That’s a traffic jam. Oh well, it will get better as folks leave.

But my assumption is that the guys (and it was all guys) running in the experienced group are actually experienced and not novices.

I’ve been to so many drivers meetings at HPR I could easily run them. All the usual stuff gets covered: how to get on and off the track, what the lights and flags mean, and passing rules. For the experienced group, we have open passing. Meaning you don’t need a point-by to pass, and you can do it wherever you think it’s safe. There are two things of particular interest to me, and if Glen doesn’t mention them, I’ll raise my hand. First is reminding the high horsepower cars that if they see a low horsepower car in their mirrors, please don’t race down the straight and that they’ll need to lift to let us by. Second is that it’s the responsibility of the passing car to go around the slower car. It’s not the responsibility of the slower car to get out of the way.

I brought up the first one, and somebody else brought up the second. When I made my comment about horsepower differences, Glen reinforced it by saying that horsepower doesn’t matter: if somebody caught up to you, they’re faster. Let them by. The other point was reiterated as well. The slower car should not deviate from his line.

I Lose My Composure

In my second session I caught up to a silver Corvette. I was faster everywhere on the track except the straights, where he used his horsepower to get away. I was behind him for nearly a lap, and when we got onto the long straight I expected him to let me by. Instead, he hauled ass ahead only for me to catch him in the next turn. Later that lap, I pointed Dave Green by me. At the start of the straight Dave pulls out to pass, but the Corvette hauls ass again, totally unaware he is now holding up two Lotus behind him. We finally get around him after turn 5.

Next time around there are flashing yellow lights: said silver Corvette is stopped on the inside of turn seven. Well, he won’t be holding anybody up any longer. But he is there for the rest of the session while the tow truck deals with him. So we have yellow flag (actually, flashing yellow lights) conditions there: get off the throttle until you pass the incident.

Meanwhile, in my mirrors I see a brown Cadillac catching me. Sort of. He’s not making any headway at all in the turns but is much faster on the straights. On the highway straight he gets optimistic and pulls to the inside thinking he’ll outbrake me into 4. He’s not even close. He doesn’t see that I’m braking much later than he is.

Next time around, he’s still quite a ways back. He dive bombs me again and is able to sneak inside. He doesn’t remember the comment during the meeting that “there are no F1 scouts here today. Nobody will be impressed by dive bombing somebody into a turn.” Under ideal conditions, he can’t take the turn as fast as I can, and it’s even worse for him because he’s way to the inside. So we go through the turn about 20 mph slower than normal for me. But he’s ahead now, so he’s happy.

A few seconds later we’re in the yellow flag area, passing the tow truck and the stricken Corvette. At the hairpin we are good to go to full throttle again, and we do. We’re headed through the downhill esses, a right-left-right combination under full throttle. A glance in the mirror and what do I see? A Camaro moving to my left, attempting to pass here. This is the second worst place to try to pass on this track. Where does he think I’m going to go? Does he expect me to just disappear?

It’s the faster driver’s responsibility to make a safe pass, and the slower driver should keep on his line. My line goes apex to apex to apex, crossing the entire width of the track twice through here. And this guy is going to pass?

The Corvette driver was being oblivious and rude by not paying attention to his mirrors. But he wasn’t dangerous. The Cadillac driver was overly optimistic and in a hurry; couldn’t wait to actually catch me. He didn’t understand the differences in our cars and abilities but because he did this at the end of the straight, I had no trouble seeing him and knowing where he was. He could easily have put me off by forcing me to slow down so much more than usual; I couldn’t take my line because he stole it. If I couldn’t slow down enough I’d have gone off.

Where the Camaro wanted to pass me is a different story. It’s not straight. He put himself in my blind spot; I couldn’t tell where he was going. I have a split second to act. The only sensible thing to do is to stay on my line. If he presses his pass, either we collide or he goes off. Any experienced driver knows this is a bad place to pass and will wait the few seconds to pass.

He passes me after the turns. And I express my displeasure with an extended middle finger. I lost my composure. I shouldn’t have done that. I’m generally pretty good about not doing that on the streets, and I’ve never done it before on the track. I was wrong.

But the Camaro driver was a dangerous idiot.

Who promptly found me in the paddock. If I’d have been able to track him down to chat, I’d have started by apologizing for flipping him off. But instead I got a face full of belligerence. “You got a problem with my driving?” and “I’m allowed to pass anywhere” and “I’m going to wrap your head around your steering wheel” and “I’ll kick your ass”. My response to the last was “Bring it on.” I figure if he assaults me, he goes to jail. Then he changed tack from threatening to insulting: “You’re a shitty driver”, “Your car is stupid”, “Your jumpsuit is stupid”. He continues: “I’ve been here several times, you don’t know what you’re doing out there.” He finally decides to walk away, but keeps turning around and continuing: “You’re shaking your head. You’re shaking! You’re a coward!”

Obviously, I’m writing this a couple days later. Yesterday I looked at the video. Should I have seen him before I did? It turns out that he showed up behind me because he didn’t slow down for the tow truck. I don’t know if he was on full throttle up the hill, but he caught me and the Cadillac from a great distance. We didn’t slow to a crawl, and I’d guess the Camaro was doing 15 or 20 mph more than us. That might not have been full throttle, but it was way too fast with the tow truck right there.

I lost my composure because these three things happened back to back to back. It’s not the first time for any of these things but the combination made me lose my cool. I will learn from it. But I really don’t think the other drivers will. I’m reasonably certain none of them knows that they did anything wrong.

So my self-defense will be to avoid HPR track days where I expect a big car count. CECA days may be more expensive, but there aren’t as many cars and the core group is pretty steady, so we know each other and have some built-in expectations that we can rely on.

Okay, enough navel-gazing.

Aside from that drama, it was a good day. The car worked well. No problems with the clutch, motor mounts, wheel studs, or battery tie-down. A pair of new tires for the front and an oil change and I’ll be ready for my big trip.

And there was one lap where it was rather fun to be in traffic. Here I am, for a time sandwiched between a McLaren and a Ferrari.


Helmet Art

I’ve been wanting to do something special with my helmet for quite a while. I figured a Colorado flag, but with the Lotus roundel in the center of the C instead of plain yellow. A couple years ago I had somebody lined up to do it, but he was always too busy. Six months ago or so I had somebody else slated, but that didn’t work out either. A few weeks ago I decided I’d do it myself. What’s the worst that can happen?

Two weeks ago I stopped by the Man Cave to purchase some vinyl. One of the guys asked what I wanted to do. I explained it to him and he went over to a rack of giant vinyl rolls. “I don’t have any yellow, but here’s some blue. And I have red in here.” I told him I didn’t need the yellow because I’d be using a sticker. He just gave me some scraps, no charge. Can’t beat that.

I was apprehensive about how to cut the vinyl so I watched some you tube videos. I learned about knifeless tape. It’s a kevlar strand you lay down, then put the vinyl over the top. Yank the strand out and it makes a nice cut. So I found some on eBay. 3M makes some, and somebody on eBay was selling a knock-off (made by 5M!). I found some genuine stuff and placed the order. Finally, I borrowed a heat gun and was ready.

First thing was to peel all the stickers off, take off the visor and HANS hardware, and clean it up as much as possible. It’s a bit scuffed up, but so it goes. Then apply the tape to get the blue stripes about right. I found a tiny frying pan the right size for the outside circumference of the C and used that as a pattern and cut it out with an xacto knife. All this was sized based on the size of my sticker.

I needed three hands to do this, so Michael helped. He worked the heat gun as necessary while I stretched the vinyl out. I’ve never worked with this stuff before, and I’m not a particularly artistic guy. But I figured the worst that would happen would be I waste some free vinyl and a sticker. I could always give it another shot later if I got close, or give up entirely if I did a horrible job.

The first stripe came out pretty good, until it came time to pull the kevlar thread through to make the cuts. It wasn’t quite as easy as the pro on you tube made it look. But I managed to get it to work before I gave up. The second stripe was a bit easier.

I cut my red circle in the shape of a Pac-Man. The Lotus Colorado sticker would cover the center part so I didn’t bother with any further cuts. Stretching the red (almost) circle didn’t go as smoothly as the stripes, but it’s not bad. There are a couple of small wrinkles and I had to do a little trimming because after stretching it, it was no longer perfectly circular. And the LoCo sticker has a wrinkle in it, too. But considering it’s my first time trying any of this, I’m quite happy with the results. It’s a helmet, and it will get more scuffed up in the years to come, so I wasn’t looking for perfection.

Yeah, I know the blue is the wrong color. I don’t care. I’m quite happy with the results.

Battery Tie-down

Twice now I’ve had the battery break loose at the track. It’s held down by two small clamps that clearly aren’t up to the job. I’ve searched high and low for a solution, but nothing looked good to me. I found a couple of commercial solutions, but they are for the small marine or race batteries. I don’t want to downsize the battery because I don’t want to be forced to keep the car on a battery tender all the time. I want to be free to take my road trips that span as much as two weeks.

I found a couple of DIY solutions that looked promising. These were variations on using an aluminum bar. I found something at Home Depot that might serve: an aluminum bar 36″ long, 1 1/2″ wide, and 1/8″ thick. But I don’t have a vice, so it might be tricky to bend. A similar bar 1/16″ thick might be better, but I didn’t see one.

Instead, I picked up a tow strap. I looked for some material like this, but I couldn’t find anything that was just the strap material. Seems a bit of a waste to spend $20 for the little bit I need, but at least this way if I mess it up I have plenty of material to give it a second shot.

First, I measured the battery to figure how much strap I’d need, and added a couple of inches for safety margin. I wasn’t sure how easy it would be to cut this strap, or how much it would want to unravel. So I started by taping both sides of my cuts. I mounted a fresh blade in my utility knife and started cutting. It was pretty easy, just five or six passes and I cut through.

To keep the thing from unraveling, I hit the cut ends with a torch to melt the material, cauterizing it, if you will. Sorry for the poor picture. A few seconds on each cut and it was a nice solid end.

Next problem was how to put holes in for the bolts. I picked a drill bit just smaller than the bolt diameter and went for it, one person working the drill and another holding the strap in place. Then we cauterized the holes. They’re just about perfect; you actually have to thread the bolt through.

The photo above shows the finished strap. The bolts and washers shown are the original equipment. We found a couple of bolts a little longer and with bigger heads, and an assortment of larger washers so there’s much more surface area holding the strap.

The finished product

I’ve had it installed two ways. One with the “5000 LBS” showing and one all black. Obviously, the two bolts won’t hold 5,000 pounds, but I think the strap is a big improvement over the stock batter restraints.