Holy Horsepower

It has been a busy week and I’m a little behind on getting the blog updated. So I’ll post things a bit out of sequence. I’m still putting together two or three videos of my drive home from Snowmass over Independence and Loveland passes. That work was slowed down by an evening at the Great American Beer Festival and a trip today down to Ferrari of Denver for a little car show which they called “Holy Horsepower.”

Saturday, September 22

Hours on the flyer stated 10am to 2pm, but their parking lot is small so I figured it was better to be early than late. As it was, I didn’t arrive until a few minutes after ten and by then they were pretty well full. They directed me to a nice spot that could hold two small cars. “We can probably fit another Lotus in there.” I wandered off for a bit and when I got back it wasn’t a Lotus in the spot next to me but a Tesla Roadster. Close enough!

I quickly spotted Kent’s 2017 Ford GT. It took me a while to track him down. When I did, I asked if he remembered me telling him that, even though I like all his cars, the only one I would ask to drive was his 2005 GT. I said I’d renege on that now that he has the new one. That got a smile out of him. I told him to expect an email from me.

As is usual in these things, if they were to give out an award for the dirtiest car I’d win. I haven’t had a chance to wash it since the Snowmass trip, so it’s all covered with bugs, dust, and track grime.

As expected, there was no shortage of fancy machinery. I neglected to get photos of the Morris Mini and the yellow Pantera. Actually, there were quite a few cars I didn’t get pictures of. But my photographic skills aren’t that great, so I figure I’ll go easy on everybody.

This was my best look at the Tesla and Elise side-by-side. I’d heard that they share only something like 7% of parts, and it looks like most of those are on the interior. The Tesla is several hundred pounds heavier but uses the same brakes. I was surprised by that, but it makes use of regenerative braking, so the brakes don’t need to work so hard.

I took a few shots of a pretty orange Aventador. It was one of the few cars with the engine compartment open. I was somewhat amused that they have a plaque with the engine firing order on it. I don’t recall seeing that before.

Quite a few people left by noon, but a few cars kept arriving throughout the time I was there. The one that drew the biggest crowd was a pearl white Ferrari LaFerrari Aptera 70th Anniversary car. I heard somebody say it was worth $6 million. I don’t know my Ferraris. I didn’t know it was a LaFerrari until I looked it up at home. Sure enough, it looks like that $6 million figure could be correct. Wow. Pictures don’t do the paint job justice.

When I found Ryan I told him I was interested in getting an ECU dump for my car. He said it was pretty easy and offered to do it. He brought out his scan tool and laptop and in a couple minutes I had the data. He did this last year when he rebuilt the top half of my motor, but I didn’t get a copy. I was most interested in time spent at various engine speeds. In adding these up and counting the amount of track time I have, I’m a bit surprised I’m not above 5700rpm even more than is shown. The time by car speed maps out to my expectations pretty well, so I don’t doubt the data.

RMVR Snowmass

Sunday and Monday, September 16 & 17, 2018

I had about thirteen hundred words written up about Sunday and Monday going through things in detail. Nobody really cares, though, so I’ll just cut to the chase.

I stood around on the inside of turn 13 with David and Victoria, my co-crowd-controllers. We were keeping people out of the way and our corner workers, Tom and Brian, were on the outside of turn 13 keeping the drivers out of trouble. The biggest moment of excitement for them was when one of the Formula cars spun 180 degrees very close to Brian.

I had quite a bit more interaction with spectators than I did last year. Almost without exception (almost!), they were enthusiastic about the race. Not many were race fans, but they did get a kick out of the cars. It’s quite the sensory experience. The cars are brightly colored and moving fast, they’re loud, you can smell the exhaust. When the big bore cars get on the throttle exiting the turn, particularly when they are bunched closely together, you can feel it in your chest. It is nothing at all like watching them on TV, and words completely fail to convey the experience.

Our corner workers, Tom and Brian

RMVR fed us dinner Sunday evening. We had beer and wine and the food was prepared by King Kong Emergency Response Catering Wild Fire Team. As you may divine from their name, their specialty is feeding the firefighters who fight wildfires. It’s not your basic food truck, but is prepared to traverse somewhat more difficult terrain than your typical urban landscape.

They had a variety of food available. I selected fish, corn, mashed potatoes and gravy, and a dinner roll. I was seated with my corner colleagues David and Victoria. When I got into the line for food I ran into Doug, so he joined us. He’s helping out a guy named Joe. Joe brought two cars: the number 17 Lotus 7 and the 007 Lotus Elan. He’s pretty fast. He asked where I was standing. I told him I was the guy giving all the Lotus cars the double thumbs up in turn 13 on the cool down lap. “Ah, I know where you were!”

David and Victoria ate quickly and retired to the hotel. Their spots at the table were taken by who I later learned were Steve and his wife. When I introduced myself to Joe I gave him my name and said, “I’m the green and yellow Elise.” That’s when Steve piped up and said he knew who I was. He’s in charge of arranging the volunteers for the lunch laps for the Race Against Kids Cancer. We had met briefly at last year’s event.

I didn’t take any of the cameras with me on Sunday. Corner captain Tom said, “If you’re watching the race you’re not doing your job.” But I wasn’t much busier here than on my station last year, so I was comfortable bringing all the cameras on Monday. I spent the first two laps or so of the first session for each group shooting with the SLR. I also found a variety of places to position the GoPros so that I’d get multiple angles.

Sunday’s activities were a bit shorter than Saturday’s. We had to give the streets back to the public no later than 4:00pm so the school buses could run. That was plenty of action for us. In total, we spent about sixteen hours standing on the street corner watching the cars and making sure nobody got in the way. The weather couldn’t have been much better; fine late summer days, a light breeze and no rain.

Sunday morning walking down to the meeting I spotted a place that said they served authentic Philly cheesesteaks. That sounded like a great idea for dinner, so after getting a shower I went to check it out. My first question was “What kind of bread do you use?” The answer wasn’t “Amoroso,” which, to me, means they’re not authentic. So I went searching for Plan B. There was an interesting looking Mexican place, but I didn’t want to spend that much so I found myself back to the New Belgium place where Jason and I ate Saturday night.

I did verify that David and Victoria were correct in that the Hanging Lake trail is closed. So I’m back to Plan A for the return to Denver: over Independence and Loveland passes.

I was back to the hotel and sacked out earlier than my usual bedtime.

Here’s a short video of the cars passing through turn 13.

Return to Woody Creek

Saturday, September 15

It’s time again for the RMVR race through the streets of Snowmass. It’s a big event and they need a lot of volunteers. Just like last year, they’re bribing me with free laps at Aspen Motorsports Park. (It used to be called Woody Creek and although I was never there when it operated under that name, I will continue to call it Woody Creek.) The place is privately owned and there are limited opportunities to run there, so I’ll take advantage of the opportunity. Last year’s visit was less than ideal, so I’m confident I’ll have a much better experience this time.

I was out the door by a quarter after seven, fueled up and on my way by 7:30.

The aspen are quite nice right now. Many trees still have some green leaves so unless there’s a big wind storm I should have some nice views on the way home. Why “the way home” and not “this morning?” I left the house early enough to make a stab at hiking to Hanging Lake. I’ve never been there, and next year they’re going to a permit system which will likely mean a lottery. I figure there’s a slight chance that I can get into the parking lot today, so that’s what I’m shooting for. But I will admit that the chances are not great.

I made it to the parking lot there a bit after 10:30 but the parking lot was full. Dang. Oh well. The ranger suggested I try later this afternoon, but I’ll be busy. The original plan was to go home via Independence Pass and Loveland Pass and get some GoPro footage of both of them. Instead, I think I’ll take another stab at Hanging Lake on Tuesday. If I get there early enough I should be in business. Early enough might be 8am. Which would mean being on the road by 7. Sounds doable.

Without the detour to Hanging Lake, I arrived at the track at a quarter to 11, which was way too early. But that’s okay. They were letting people in, so I had a leisurely time unpacking the car and getting everything ready.

Last year, the track day was after the RMVR race and a bunch of race cars showed up. This time it’s before the race and it’s only volunteers. At the start we had 10 cars, which we broke into two groups of five. The track is 1.1 miles long and they set up some tire barriers on the back straight to make a chicane. The track is narrow and bumpy and with the chicane isn’t well suited to passing, so we won’t be doing any. If we catch a slower car we are to go into the pit and wait for a release onto clear track.

Even with the extra time before my first session I managed to dilly dally too long. RaceChrono doesn’t have Aspen Motorsports Park in the library so I had to add it. It has been a while since I did this, and I’d forgotten exactly how to do it. So I ran the first session I ran without the lap timer.

Between sessions one and two I got the track added. It took me a while to figure it out, but that’s not because it’s hard to do but because I can sometimes be clueless. It’s actually pretty easy. At minimum, just plop a marker down at the start/finish line, rotate the arrow to match the running direction, and optionally set the width of the track.

In the second session I gave a ride to one of the paramedics. He used to work at the Lotus dealer in Denver many years ago. He has ridden in an Elise, but has never been in one on the track. He was quite impressed by the car’s ability to change direction. After a few laps I dropped him off so he could get back to his job. It wouldn’t be ideal for us if something happened where we needed the ambulance but both the paramedics were getting rides.

When I got out of the car after the second session to shut off the cameras, the new one’s battery had died. I usually get three sessions on a full charge. I thought I had full charges in all the cameras but am clearly mistaken. We were running twenty minute sessions and there was still plenty of time before I needed to be at the meeting. My goal for the day was to get three sessions, and I’d have no trouble doing that even taking a break. So I sat out a session while I charged the battery.

Third session I gave a ride to one of the other volunteers. He kept up a running commentary the whole time he was in the car but I couldn’t hear a word he said. Afterwards we chatted; he said he was saying mostly favorable things. Both passengers were impressed with the car.

Leader Board

Batteries survived the third session, where I set my best time. Under the  little canopy in the pits where they have some tables and coolers and helmets to borrow, they have a leader board posted. The important things to note about these times is that they’re run by the members of the track who have run many, many laps, and that the laps they’re running don’t include the chicane. I think my times were favorable (my best was 1:09.19), given that this was essentially my first day there and the chicane certainly slowed me down.

Racing heritage?

After everybody was off the track Jason brought out his Europa. It sat in a barn for years before he bought it and has only about thirty thousand miles on the clock. It also seems to have some racing heritage based on some stickers in the engine compartment. The way he talked about it I was expecting it to be in rougher shape. He wanted to do a size comparison against the Elise. They’re very similar sizes: measurement by eyeball says the Europa is an inch or two longer and maybe an inch lower.

Side by side

I left the track in time to get checked into the hotel before our required 5pm meeting. On the way to highway 82 I saw a bunch of McLarens heading to the track. They had a short session starting at 4. I gave a peace sign to the first group of 5 or 6 cars but only the last guy in line acknowledged me. I waved at the next group of 4 or 5 and they all waved back. Maybe McLaren owners don’t like peace signs.

I got checked in and headed to my room to drop off most of my stuff. On the stairs I met my roommate for the stay: Brian. The door lock wasn’t working and he had called the maintenance guys. They showed up just after I did. He said he’d only be using the room for the shower because he’ll be sleeping in his van. That works for me. I dumped the first pile of my stuff on the bed then parked the car. Upon my return Brian had already left and my key didn’t work, so I had to get it re-keyed.

This meeting was for both corner workers and crowd control. Last year it was two separate meetings. It sounds like they learned some lessons from last year. From my limited perspective, last year’s event went off pretty well, but there’s always room for improvement. This year it’s a two day event rather than a single day. My assigned station this year is about a hundred yards up the hill from last year. I was on a straightaway last time and this time I’m in a corner, which should be more entertaining. Last year I didn’t have much to do, as I wasn’t in a very busy spot. I’m guessing this year will be very similar.

I went back to the room and I got the laptop fired up in order to copy the videos from the cameras. But the laptop didn’t recognize the newer camera. At the same time, Windows decided it needed to update itself. The laptop is so old it doesn’t perform very well, and doesn’t like to multi task. So I didn’t expect to make much progress.

Luckily, Jason was done at the track and was free for dinner. Even though he’s not a beer drinker, he kindly agreed to meet me at the brew pub closest to my hotel. We had a nice chat and I ate too much.

Here’s a video with a few laps. They’re short laps. I don’t think the bumpiness of the track comes through on the video, but it’s pretty obvious how narrow it is. Also note that all the turns are second gear and I’m only into third gear twice each lap. Still, that fast lap works out to about 57mph average speed. Above, I mentioned that when we caught a slower car we were to pull into the pits and wait for a gap. It didn’t always work out that way – sometimes the slower car pulled over for me.

CECA CSP

Saturday, August 18

I didn’t enter today’s event but went out anyway just to hang out. We wanted a big turnout from Lotus Colorado and I’d have to say we did it. By my count we had nine cars entered, but I’ll admit that I’m not certain every Lotus there was brought by a club member. Still, I’m not sure we’ve had that many Lotus at a track day other than for LOG at PPIR.

It started to rain just before the lunch break, and by noon it was coming down quite hard. As I was improperly dressed for the weather – shorts and t-shirt and no rain gear – I figured it was a good time to make my escape. I hope the squall was short-lived and the folks who stayed managed to get additional track time.

I had a good time visiting with everybody and taking pictures. Somehow I talked Junmo into showing up with his drone. I hope he found the morning worth his time. I shot quite a few pictures, thinking I got at least one of each Lotus in attendance. I managed to miss getting one of Gordon, though. Don’t know how that happened. Sorry, Gordon.

HPR in the Dark

Thursday, June 26

I did a Thursday evening session last year. We got sprinkled on but it never got wet, and I had to end early due to my battery coming dislodged. So I’ve been looking forward to another Thursday evening session for about a year. I figured I’d be able to stay long enough for it to get dark, but was sort of hoping we’d have a thunderstorm roll through so I could see what it’s like in the wet.

It didn’t rain until the drive home, but more about that later.

I finally met Martha, who was the high bidder at a fund raiser several months ago for a ride in the car. We’d been trading messages for quite a while. At one point, she was going to give her ride to Lucia. As it turns out they both were there. Martha rode for only a few laps so I gave Lucia a few laps too. They both seemed to enjoy it.

The first session after they left, I noticed that RaceChrono was showing me a message: “Connecting to ODB…” It never could connect, so the first several sessions are without OBD data. That’s disappointing. I’d been bragging how well everything was working, and was looking forward to using the speed data from the ODB rather than the phone, which should be more accurate. I eventually got it working after unplugging the dongle then plugging it back in (that didn’t work), turning the phone off and back on (that didn’t work), then removing the ODB device from RaceChrono and adding it back in.

I ended up running six sessions. Four of those totaled only sixteen laps though, so that works out to be more like two sessions. The other two sessions were ten and eleven laps, so it comes out to about four full sessions. But I only got OBD data for the last two, which were four laps each. That should have been a single session, but when I got out on track I noticed I was low on gas. It hadn’t gotten fully dark yet, and I wanted to keep going, so I pumped a couple gallons of rocket fuel (98 octane unleaded racing gas) into the tank and went back out.

I really had a good time. There weren’t many cars running so we didn’t bother with the usual fast and slow groups. I ran about as many laps as I would during a CECA event for a bit over half the cost. I had a couple of nice laps in there as well. I ran two laps in the 2:12’s, which is as fast as I’ve ever done on the Direzza tires. My quickest ever is in the 2:09’s running on the stock Yoko’s. At the time, by best on the Direzzas was in the 2:14’s. I picked up a gently used set of A7’s and I can’t help but wonder how much faster those tires are. I would expect them to be quicker than the Yoko’s, so until I find out I’m operating under the delusion a 2:07 may be attainable. That must be delusional thinking, right?

I will admit here that I went four wheels off the track twice. First, I was on a flyer and through the first three turns was improving on my fastest lap of the evening. Then I caught up to Chad at the end of the highway straight. I figured I’d be past him before the braking zone but misjudged it a bit. He broke later than I anticipated. So I found myself braking too late and well inside my usual line. I had no hope of making it so I straight-lined it.

The second time was my very last lap. I had just done my best lap of the day. That lap was in near dark and every minute was getting darker. I could easily run pretty decent laps in the dark, but it’s more of a challenge to push it. I pushed it into turn three and badly missed the apex. That was confirmation that I wouldn’t be improving my time, and gave me a bit of insight into what the endurance racers face. They have better lights, but still, it’s a challenge.

The drive home was the most exciting part of the evening. It was only sprinkling on the drive from the track to Byers, but lightning was strobing the clouds clear across the horizon. It started raining when I got to the gas station, but it wasn’t terribly heavy yet. A few miles up I-70 it really started coming down. I had a hard time with visibility and had to slow to about 55. Then it stopped raining and a the road was dry in the right lane.

A few minutes later, the rain came down in Biblical proportions. I wasn’t having any problems with hydroplaning but I was really having a hard time seeing the lane markings. I had both windows cracked but the windshield started fogging up badly. Trying to get the windshield de-fogged I opened both windows a bit farther. Pretty much everything got soaked. I slowed down to about 20. A bunch of cars and trucks had pulled over to the side of the road and stopped. I considered it, but was afraid I wouldn’t get fully off the road and would get rear-ended. So I kept crawling along. Thankfully, a flatbed semi passed me and I had an easier time following him. I managed to get the defroster going and cleared a bit of windshield. It continued like this for quite a while. Luckily, there was no hail.

So here’s the best lap of the evening. I ran the new GoPro’s battery down on the previous session. I have a spare for the old camera (which usually gets mounted on the back, for rear view and sound). With just the one camera, the sound isn’t as good. And I didn’t aim it very well so I have too much cockpit for my taste. Finally, being that it’s an automatic exposure, it comes out lighter than it really was and introduces all that noise.

Road America Blitz – North Woods Shelby Club

Thursday, July 5 – Evening

I arrived at Road America at about 5:00pm and checked in. My packet included a schedule, my driver’s wristband, a ticket for the dinner Friday night. I’d forgotten which group I signed up for; the label on the packet indicated I’m in Group 2. I asked about tent camping and was directed to a window at the other end of the building. There I paid my $50 flat rate (good for the entire weekend). I was to set up anywhere in the paddock where there’s grass.

I picked a spot at the bottom of the hill in the North Paddock and unpacked. I probably should have looked around first; there are some spots that get afternoon shade that might have been better. But by then I’d unloaded the car and met all my neighbors. None of them was camping, so I had the area to myself. I met Jeff, Jeff, Jeff, Dan, Dan, Otto, and Tracy. My little one-man tent was a source of amusement. One of the Jeff’s said he felt bad that his tires had a bigger tent than I did. I joked that it was the biggest tent I could fit in the Lotus.

My next task was to get my tech inspection. About all they did was verify that I had brake lights. They gave a cursory glance at the motor, presumably to spot any obvious leaks. They also checked my helmet, attaching a sticker good for NWSC events through 2026. On the car I got a tech sticker on the left side of the windshield and group sticker for top center of windshield. Mine is “F2”, which translates to Friday Group 2. Other examples I saw were “F2S2” (Friday and Saturday, Group 2) and “Z3” (all weekend, Group 3)

The folks around me, the 3 Jeffs, 2 Dans, and so on, were a nice friendly crowd. We had a 3 series BMW and an M3, a fairly new Boss 302 Mustang, a 1968 Cougar (with an engine so clean you could eat off it), and a late 80’s Thunderbird (that began life as a turbo 4 but is now a V8). Not far away was the only other Lotus entered in the event: a white Exige. Like everybody else in the area, he dropped the car off and went elsewhere for the evening. I didn’t meet Mark until the next day.

I headed to Plymouth for dinner and found a place called Antoinette’s Casual Dining. Sign said Please Wait to Be Seated. I waited quite a while. I made eye contact with every server in the place but was thoroughly ignored. After they took care of some takeout meals and customers paying they finally offered to seat me. Not a great start to the meal, but the service got better. I had a nice bowl of Wisconsin Cheesey Bacon soup and the cranberry chicken salad. The soup came with a warm soft pretzel, which was good for dipping in the thick soup.

By the time I got back to the track the sun was nearly set and my campsite was in shade. I sat in my camp chair and fired up the computer to make notes of the two days drive. In preparation, I sprayed on some mosquito repellent. The computer took more than its usual time to boot up and by the time it was running I was getting buzzed by quite a few mosquitoes. I applied another coat of repellent. This had no effect, and neither did the third coat. So I retreated to the tent. Only one or two of the monsters got in with me so I didn’t get eaten up too badly.

Friday, July 6

With the early bedtime, I was awake by 3:30. I tried to go back to sleep but gave up by 4:30. Got dressed, had some breakfast, then started to wander the paddock. Not much was happening at that early hour. I had a nice chat with a fellow who was running his Factory Five Cobra replica with his son. I talked to them because I the car next to their trailer up on jack stands had Utah plates. These guys weren’t the owners but had loaned their stands out. The problem with the car was that a caliper bolt was missing. I don’t know if they ever got the car on the track while I was there. I’m not sure how that defect was caught in tech; they certainly didn’t look that closely at my car.

Farther up the paddock I saw a truck with Montana plates. The owner saw me and immediately said “No way!” I had a momentary thought that I’d met him on my Pacific northwest trip. I was wrong, but I wasn’t terribly wrong. I quickly realized we were both wearing Oregon Raceway Park t-shirts. ORP is his “local” track. Local being the closest one, at only five hundred miles away. He was running a Panoz Esperante.

I seemed to have driven my car the farthest to attend, but there were quite a few folks who trailered their cars from farther. The guys with the Factory Five Cobra had friends from both coasts who met here: one from California, the other from Massachusetts. I have already mentioned the Montana and Utah plates; I also saw Georgia. But most were Wisconsin, Illinois, Missouri, and Iowa.

As to the cars, I was told there were 178 entrants for Friday. There were the usual proliferation of Mustangs, Corvettes, Porsches, and BMWs. Myself and the aforementioned Exige were the Lotus contingent. There were a handful of Cobra replicas, a couple of 2005 Ford GTs, a GT-40 replica, a Superlite, two old Fiat X1/9’s, a very fast Pantera, a few Focus RS’s, only one or to Miatas, and at least one modern Mini. There must have been a Subaru, but I don’t specifically recall one. Certainly fewer Miatas and Subarus than I usually see. In any event, the focus was on horsepower.

The drivers meeting was at 8:00 at the winners circle area. For the most part, it was the usual drivers meeting: these are the flags, grid up here, exit the track there. Two things were a bit unusual in my experience. First, the organizers asked if anybody was running with airbags in their car. A number of us raised our hands. I’ve never been asked that before. “Some of our rumble strips are extreme. If you hit the wrong one, your airbags will deploy!” My general habit is to avoid the curbs. Having put the Chump Car on the rumble strip in T5 a few years ago I have an idea how harsh they are. The other unusual item was that some of the cars would be doing their point-bys using turn signals. Some of the cars have fixed windows and one gentleman would be driving with hand controls.

One other topic of discussion with my neighbors was fuel. Everybody said I wouldn’t be doing more than two sessions without needing a refill. I told them I can generally run four sessions on a tank. Nobody laughed at me, but in retrospect I’m surprised they didn’t. Fuel consumption here is very high. So I asked where the nearest gas stations were. The track has regular pump fuel on site, but it’s about eight bucks a gallon. So when the time came, I headed to Elkhart Lake to refill.

I don’t recall how I decided I should be in group 2 way back in March when I registered. My general desire is to be in an intermediate group that has point-by passing. But NWSC organizes groups here at RA by lap times, not by experience. Group 1 is fastest and 4 is slowest. So I find myself in the second fastest group in not quite the lowest horsepower car in the event.

When the first session started, I got gridded up near the end of the line. The first lap was under yellow, with no passing. For the rest of the session, I lived in my mirrors. The organizers set up cones to show the passing zones. One cone at the start, two cones at the end. You can’t pass before the first cone and you have to be done by the two cones. At most of the tracks I visit there are only two or three passing zones. For this event, almost everything that wasn’t a turn was a passing zone. Technically, that’s not even true as Road America has some numbered turns that would qualify as straights anywhere else. We had eight passing zones: between 1 and 3, 3 and 5, 5 and 6, 6 and 7, 7 and 8, 10 and 11, 11 and 12, and 12 and 13. I think I pointed people by in six of those places. I was clearly in the wrong group.

After the session I tracked down the organizers and told them I wanted to switch groups. “I’m in Group 2. I ran a 2:55. I want to switch to Group 3.” “We’ll put you in Group 4. 2:55 is a Group 4 time.” After a little back and forth, I made my case for Group 3. They booted up their computer, updated their records, and verified that nobody else in Group 3 was running number 23. Then we peeled the F2 sticker off my windshield and replaced it with an F3.

My next session was much happier than the first. Instead of pointing car after car by me I had my best session of the day, as far as traffic goes. After the out lap, I had four consecutive laps without any traffic. Well, the third lap I did pass a car but he waved me by between T3 and T5 after I lifted off the throttle for only a split second. Only one lap of the session was slower than my fastest lap of the first session, and in that lap I passed three cars and was passed by one.

Between sessions I went over to where Mark parked his Exige. He and his friends rented a carport so they’d have some shade. This is at the corner of the North Paddock, near the exit of T14 where the cars start the steep climb up to the start/finish line. He and I were chatting as I was attempting to get some action shots of the cars. While we were talking, one of the cars caught fire as it started up the hill. I wasn’t quick enough with the camera and missed the shot. But the car was in flames the entire width of the car, dropping oil and trailing a big cloud of white smoke. She missed the entrance to the pits and so left the oil slick on driver’s right all the way up the front straight. The driver was okay, but it took another twenty minutes to clean up the oil. This ended Group 2’s session after one lap.

My third session was a bit frustrating. I quickly got behind a Mustang that was stuck behind a replica Cobra. Neither one seemed to be watching their mirrors. The Mustang had a large rectangular green sticker on the back bumper, which I think is how NWSC indicates a novice driver. When other cars caught us, I’d point them by: the Mustang and Cobra would let them by, but they never let me through. I was doing my best to make myself seen, getting in one mirror then the other but to no avail. I had decided that next time around the start/finish I’d pull off to get a gap. But when the next faster car arrived and I pointed him by, I tailgated him past the obstructing Mustang. A turn or two later the Cobra let me by. I never really got a clean lap the whole session, but on my final lap did manage to match my best time from session 2 to the hundredth of a second. When I saw the checkered flag, I started slowing down. Had I maintained throttle until under the starter’s stand, I’d have bettered my time.

When I walked through the main paddock on top of the hill earlier in the morning I didn’t take the camera. I wanted to make another circuit of the paddock to get some pictures so now was the time. I snapped a few pictures and chatted briefly with a few folks then remembered that we were allowed to go over to race control to take a look. So that’s what I did. After a few minutes in race control the guys there sent me out to the starter’s station: “Go out and talk to Ken. He won’t bite.” From in the car on the way up the hill it looks like the starter stands over the highest point. But from his location you can clearly see that the track continues to climb.

I chatted with Ken briefly. He had work to do and I really didn’t want to bother him. Then I tried taking pictures of the cars from there. It’s a tough angle, and the cars are really hauling here. None of my pictures came out. But while I was shooting, he grabbed the black flag and waved it. Then he put that away and got out the red flag. Two cars came to a stop right below us. I was curious what was going on, but I didn’t want to bother Ken.

Obviously, something serious had happened. I went back to my car and visited with my paddock neighbors while we waited for things to get sorted out. It turns out that one of the Camaros in Group 1 had a big accident just after the Kink. The car was totaled but the driver walked away. They did put him in an ambulance – no doubt even after walking away from a heavy shunt like that you’re going to the hospital to get checked out.

They threw the red flag at about 2:30. An hour later they announced that we’d resume running at 4:10. That turned into 4:40. The track goes cold at 6:00, so a 4:40 start would mean each group’s session would be a bit less than twenty minutes. It was finally announced that we’d resume at 5:00 and we’d run combined groups. Groups 1 and 2 would run together and 3 and 4 would be together. At least that way we’d get a full session. As is typical for the final session of the day a number of people had dropped out for one reason or another, and with this being such a long track I wasn’t too concerned about traffic.

Two of the cars of my neighbors were victims of attrition. Tracy’s BMW had a front brake disk that was developing a crack. She’s not a big fan of exploding brake disks so she parked it while her husband scoured the region for a replacement. They found one two and a half hours away. At least she’d be able to get back on the track for Saturday.

The Thunderbird was also out with a broken heim joint. He had replacement parts just after 5:00 but not in time to get back on the track that day. He talked a bit about how the car was handling. He evidently has some odd combination of suspension parts. He says it’s okay for the most part. But when he’s side-by-side with another car in the Kettle Bottoms (the fast bit after the Kink) the car acts a bit squirrely. That seems to me to be not the best place to have a squirrely handling car.

So my last session had more traffic than the other two that I ran in Group 3. For this session I decided to forego the rear-facing view and put the camera on the nose of the car. I left the other camera on top of the car, so I’d have both facing forward. As it turns out, the battery in the top camera died during the session so the only footage I have is from the nose mount.

I didn’t get to improve my best time due to all the traffic but I had fun nonetheless. I’m not saying I was the fastest car on the track in the group (because I wasn’t), but I didn’t see any faster cars the whole time. I passed every other car I saw. And I saw a bunch of cars I hadn’t seen on track all day, including the replica GT-40 and a Ford GT. I have no idea how fast that replica is, but the driver was pretty slow. I know the Ford GT is a really fast car, but he was slow too.

NWSC puts on a big dinner on the Friday night of this event. I had a meal ticket in my registration packet. But when I went to look for it, I couldn’t find it. I knew it was around somewhere but I had no luck tracking it down. Most of my neighbors were going off-track for dinner, so one of them donated their spare ticket to me. It was a nice meal: fried chicken, BBQ chicken, fish, and prime rib along with scalloped potatoes, mixed vegetables, salad, rolls, and a variety of desserts.

I sat with one of the Jeffs and some other random track rats. The gentleman who sat on my left drives a Corvette ZR-1 with a Calloway supercharger. He says it’s the seventeenth Corvette he’s owned. I wanted to ask him why he couldn’t find one he liked, but I was a good boy. He was wearing a great t-shirt: it said “Point Me By”, printed in reverse.

By the time I was back to my tent, the sun had gone down. I didn’t bother with the mosquito repellent. On the way to my site I chatted with some other campers. They had a fire going. I asked if that was how they avoided the mosquitoes. “Yeah, the mosquitoes around here just laugh at Off.” So it was another early night for me. I was asleep before ten.

I slept well, not waking up until about five. My tarp and tent were wet with dew, so I took my time packing up. Of course, I found my meal ticket. I was on the road not long after six.

Reflections

Road America is by far the fastest track I’ve ever driven on. I doubt I’ll ever drive on a faster track. On its three long straights, I’m in fifth gear on cam at wide-open throttle for nearly thirty seconds each lap. On two of those straights I was able to top 120mph regularly, with a recorded top speed of 124. There isn’t a second gear turn anywhere. By the end of the day I was taking turn 1 in fourth and was able to navigate the Kink without braking. I’m in fourth gear through the Carousel even though I’m not on the second cam.

When I was here with Chump Car we ran the chicane after the Carousel, so we didn’t have to deal with the Kink. The Kink has been called the most dangerous turn on any track in America. I certainly had a healthy fear of it. There is no run off and a concrete wall is just a few feet away. If you make a mistake you’ll pay heavily for it. If that wall weren’t there I think I might be able to take it nearly flat, which would make it a faster turn than turns 1/2 at La Junta. But with that wall so close I don’t know how much faster I’d be willing to go than I went today.

I was probably most surprised at how my car performed in the Carousel. I don’t know for sure, but I was probably on the hardest tires of any car in the event. The vast majority were running on R-compounds and quite a few were on slicks. On my 460 treadwear tires I was able to gain on almost everybody in the Carousel. Sometimes my little car amazes me.

I think NWSC put on a good event. I’d gladly run with them again, although it’s unlikely I’ll make the long trek again any time soon. It was a long drive for one day of lapping, and I’m obviously a mental defective for doing it. But I sure did have fun!

Bugatti Type 35A

Looks like I’ve made a significant error here. This is a Type 37A, not a 35A.

Sunday, June 24

We’re trying to mix things up a bit for our monthly LoCo meetings. Normally we meet on a Tuesday evening, alternating between north and south locations in metro Denver. Not everybody can make it on a Tuesday, though, so we’re mixing in the occasional weekend date. For our June meeting, Victor kindly hosted us at High Mountain Classics where we had pizza and a tour of his shop.

My last visit here was a year ago when I picked up my car (after the ordeal of the camshafts). I’m still missing the box of stuff I (used to) carry in the boot: my front license plate, some tools, a towel, the bag for my soft top, and so on. So when Victor kicked off the tour I offered to buy a beer for anybody who spotted my box. Sadly, I had no need to make good on that offer. The box is still missing and I need to start replacing those items.

In the shop today were an interesting variety of cars. There were two nice Cadillacs, an old Chevy, a Porsche, Jim’s X180R, and a few others. High Mountain Classic’s raison d’être, of course, is restoring pre-war Bugattis. There was only one resident in the shop so it garnered a lot of attention.

This example is a 1927 Type 35A. The Type 35A, nicknamed ‘Tecla’ was an ‘inexpensive’ version of the Type 35 and made its first appearance in May of 1925. Its nickname was given by the public after a maker of imitation jewelry. There’s a tenuous Lotus connection here. Tecla is an anagram of the French word for brilliant: eclat. And, of course, there’s a model of Lotus called the Eclat.

While we’re on the subject of names, the modern Bugatti Chiron is named for the oldest man to ever race in Formula 1. Louis Chiron was 55 when he took sixth place in the 1955 Monaco Grand Prix. But he made his name behind the wheel of various Type 35’s in the 1920’s and 1930’s.

The engine of the Type 35A was a reliable unit borrowed from the Type 30. It used three bearings, had smaller valves, coil ignition, and produced less horsepower than the 90 or so of its Type 35 sibling. Only 139 examples of the Type 35A were created.

It looks like quite the beast to drive. It’s not a big car, and the driver doesn’t so much sit in it as on it. The tires are skinny and look quite hard; and of course tire compounds have come a long way in the last 90 years. There are a number of brake levers and cables run along the outside of the bodywork. Even with the old brake technology, I’m sure it produces sufficient stopping power. Any more and it would be too easy to lock up the wheels.

I found a video of this particular car being driven at Laguna Seca for a reunion race back in 2010. He turns a lap of 2:09.6. For comparison, in my modern car on modern street tires, I managed a 1:55. In the video, when he is following another Bugatti, you can see the other driver leaning out of the car in the right-hand turns. I’m sure it was quite the thrilling car to drive fast, particularly with no racing harness or even three-point seat belts.

I love that the owners of these seven figure works of art aren’t shy about mounting their cameras to the cars. This is not the first time I’ve seen a GoPro adhesive mount on one of these cars. I particularly like the attention to detail of the period-correct wire reinforcement of the fastener, even for the anachronistic camera mount. It was seeing a GoPro mount on a car in this shop a few years ago that convinced me it was okay to put one on my car. If it’s okay to glue one to a multi-million dollar antique I shouldn’t feel bad about putting one on my car.

Update

I do all this research on this particular car, even finding a video of it in action. But I somehow miss on that page that the car is a Type 37A, not a Type 35A. If I’d have known much about Bugattis, my error would have been obvious: the 37A is a four cylinder and the 35A is an eight. You can’t take me anywhere. 

The 37A is almost identical to the 35A: same body, same chassis, same wire wheels, same wheelbase. Bugatti produced 286 of the Type 37’s, 76 of them the supercharged Type 37A. In the supercharged version, performance was greatly improved over the naturally aspirated model, giving the car a top speed of 122 mph. The 37A models were raced in some of the world’s greatest endurance races at the time, including the Mille Miglia, the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and the Targa Florio.

LeMons B.F.E. GP 2018 – Part 2

Sunday June 10

I arrive at the track a few minutes before 8. The weather forecast for today calls for high temperatures a few degrees warmer than yesterday. One of Brett’s great decisions was to rent one of the carports to keep us all out of the sun. Instead of brilliant clear blue skies, we have some smoke that has blown in from the wildfires near Durango. I don’t think it will help with the heat, though.

Tiny discs

When I left the track last night I was under the impression that the brakes had been completed but Brett told me he’d worked on the car until nearly 3am again. When they installed new pads there was an issue. They kept an old pad on one side of the rotor and put a new pad on the other and things were still a bit tight. I’m not sure what the implications of that might be, but I don’t think pad wear was the critical issue. When they bled the brakes, the fluid that came out was quite dark. I think the controlling factor is that the discs are so small. They’re not vented and can’t shed the heat, so the fluid cooks.

I don’t know that “all is forgiven”, but when I got to our carport, Jan was applying my name to the car. The guys continued to make tweaks to the car, and continued to struggle with fuel filter issues. By now we had a number of little water bottles filled with the backwash from the filter, each with a thick layer of sediment on the bottom.

Jan is out first in the car. She’s out about an hour. James is next, also about an hour. I’m up third, Brett wants me to go an hour and a half. While Jan is out, James and I spend some time shooting the breeze. We talk about lap timers and he downloads RaceChrono. He had been playing around with a different one, one that also does video. They made an attempt to mount his phone onto the dashboard of the car with zip ties, but that really had no chance. I told him it would work with the phone in his pocket, so that’s the route he went. I saw a tablet in one of the cars nearby; that looks like a good way to go. You can mount it securely and the display is plenty big.

Jan in the car

I help refuel the car twice. For LeMons, it only takes two people. Each must be in full gear – driving suit, helmet (with visor closed), gloves, fire proof shoes. One pours the fuel and the other stands ready with a fire extinguisher. The driver can’t be in the car. Yesterday, I poured gas during the one refueling exercise I participated in. Today I did both roles once each. During the second refueling of the day, I had to help Hank get back into the car. When I was buckling him up, I made the mistake of taking off my gloves. This is a big no-no and could have gotten us penalized.

In my stint in the car, I again try to count laps. Yesterday my 22 laps took an hour and nineteen minutes. That’s from the time I started the lap timer to when I stopped it. To get an hour and a half, I should count laps again and go an extra lap or two. So I get to 22 and go one more before exiting the track. When I get to our garage, nobody is expecting me. Hank isn’t suited up and nobody else is there. Brett arrives and asks how I’m doing. I say I’m doing fine and that I figured my time was up. He tells me I should do 3 more laps to give Hank time to get suited up. When I’m out of the car I find the lap timer has logged 23 laps. So clearly I’m unable to count.

I really thought I was doing a better job counting. How hard can it be to count to 22, you may wonder. Each time I crossed the start/finish line I’d announce to myself the count. I’d repeat it in turn four. I’m sure if I was the only one on the track it would be dead simple. But whenever I’d get stuck in a clump of traffic, with cars passing me and me passing other cars, it can get quite busy. It takes all my concentration.

Attrition has been working on the car count the whole race. There are a number of cars in the paddock when I start my session and traffic is noticeably lighter than yesterday. I am able to run several laps without having to pass or be passed. But I occasionally hit clumps of traffic. At one point, we’re going three wide up the hill on turn 11. Still, there are some really aggressive drivers who I must take action to avoid hitting when they’re passing me. One BMW steals my apex in turn 2, then gives me a wave. I take it as a “thanks for letting me by”, but when I relate the story to James he suggests that perhaps it was a “sorry” wave. Funny how there’s no doubt in my mind in the heat of the action but afterwards I can accept the possibility that it wasn’t exactly how I saw it at the time.

I shouldn’t be surprised that I’m seeing lots of “unique” racing lines. I’ve done in the neighborhood of a thousand laps at HPR and certainly a bunch of the drivers on track this weekend are here for their first visits. Many, undoubtedly, have never lapped anywhere before.

I don’t know if it’s because there’s less traffic or I’m just getting used to the car, but today I ran nine laps that were faster than my best lap yesterday. James says his best lap was a 2:41, which is a pretty good lap considering his lack of experience. He said he thought Jan was running more like 3:00 (but I’m not sure how he knows). When I later reviewed the video of the wheel coming off yesterday, I see that Hank’s times were in the mid to high 2:40’s. I would assume everybody’s times were better today than yesterday.

Hank came back in after only a few laps – fuel filter problems again. It worked fine for me, but seemed to crop up after we put more gas in the car. Not every time, but often enough. They back flushed the filter and sent him back out. Again, he was in after a lap. Turns out the filter wasn’t installed quite right. There was a tense moment between the mechanics but Brett reestablished the chain of command, the car was fixed, and Hank was back on track.

By the time Hank was in the car, the tenor of the race changed for us. I hadn’t been at all concerned with the results. I figured we had no chance at a win of any sort, so I wasn’t particularly interested in how we compared to anybody else. Brett now told us that we were in a race. One of the awards is the IOE. He explained it as the Index of Effort, or doing the most with the least. Turns out it’s the Index of Effluency. Our competition for this award was a Pinto station wagon. At that moment, we each had run the same number of laps. We needed to finish with more laps than them to win the IOE.

There’s an app available to keep on top of the results, but I didn’t bother installing it. Also, the post a hard copy of the standings in the classroom. The standings show our place, how many laps we’d run, and our fastest lap. That fast lap was a close match to my fastest lap according to RaceChrono. So I was fastest in the car. I expected this, as I have much more track experience than the other drivers.

Brett kept Hank in the car the rest of the day. We fueled him up one more time. James and I went looking for current standings with something like half an hour to go. By then we were up by 5 laps. As long as we didn’t have a wheel come off again things were looking pretty good. Nobody had run double the laps we’d completed, but half a dozen had run a hundred laps more. We had a couple of hours in the pits, so that would account for maybe 40 laps.

A big crowd gets all lined up where the cars come off the track when the checker flew to cheer all the cars. Standing at the fence, we met the crew of another car. They were in our class (C), and a lap ahead of us until their car broke down just before the checker. So we not only beat the Pinto but moved up from 6th to 5th in our class. There are three classes: A, B, and C. Aaron described them as “might win”, “might finish”, and “good luck”.

When Hank got out of the car, I asked him how the brakes were. “They’re gone. Double pump and get just a little braking in the rear.”

Turns out the IOE award is one of the top trophies, if not the top. I believe it has the largest cash prize. It also means Brett gets a free entry to the next LeMons race. The trophy is an overturned car with the driver running away. All the drivers get patches, too. We got the award because of the issues we had in getting the car running Friday, the fuel problems Saturday morning, and the wheel coming off Saturday afternoon. We had no gauges: no fuel gauge, no speedometer, no tach, no temperature gauges. By the end of each day we had no brakes.

Conclusion

We had 5 drivers in the car and turned 157 laps. (At least, that’s what I recall. I can’t find the official results.) If they were equally divided, that’s 31 or 32 laps each. I ran 45 laps according to RaceChrono. Hank undoubtedly ran more. Brett didn’t drive at all the second day, so he shortchanged himself. I certainly got more than my share of seat time, in spite of my lack of participation in getting the car built and keeping it running.

My instructions were to be kind to the car; not to rev too high, not to abuse the brakes. I think I did this, not only taking good care of the car but turning consistently fast laps. I’m sure there’s a fair amount of luck involved, but I was the only driver who didn’t have any problems with the car.

As to the car, nostalgia ain’t what it used to be. This LeMons car is not at all like my Arrow. About all that’s the same is the body and the steering wheel. It’s a different engine and transmission. Mine was a 1.6l 4-speed, this has the 2.6l and 5-speed from a Fire Arrow. The wheels and tires on the Lemons car are bigger than on mine, and the car rides maybe three or four inches higher. My young self thought the car handled well, but of course my young self had no real clue. This LeMons car has considerable body roll due to the high ride height. When I was in the car, everything worked, but all felt … imprecise. I occasionally had trouble finding 3rd gear (never missed a shift, but struggled a few times). In the uphill right hand turn 11, I often experienced a nasty hop in the rear end under acceleration. I was able to alter my line in that turn and by not getting on the throttle as early or as hard more or less eliminate it.

Brett’s take on LeMons racing is that it’s more for and about the mechanics than the drivers. I have no aptitude for working on cars and it’s not particularly interesting to me. That is, it’s not something I want to learn, at least not in the context of running a LeMons race. For me, it’s all about driving the car. I’m more an “arrive and drive” guy. I’ll be surprised if Brett asks me back.

I have to thank Brett for letting me drive his car, and big thanks go to everyone on the team. They really put forth a great effort and they’re fully deserving of the IOE trophy. Aside from some tension early Saturday, I enjoyed the weekend.

LeMons B.F.E. GP 2018 – Part 1

What is LeMons?

24 Hrs of LeMons is an endurance racing series for cars costing less than $500. There’s an emphasis on absurdity. The title is a parody of the long running annual 24 Hours of Le Mans race, and lemon cars. Teams of four or more drivers compete for up to 24 hours.

These races set themselves apart from the typical road race by the unusual penalties and punishments dished out by judges, as well as a blatant disregard for traditional motorsport politicking. The series is similar to the ChumpCar World Series which developed out of it (and which I ran at Road America in 2015), but retains a more carnival-like atmosphere. The cars and teams tend to have themes and costumes. The series has been in operation since 2006.

Teams come from all over the country to enter these races. This weekend’s race has entrants from Oklahoma, Texas, Utah, Illinois, and Michigan, and who knows where else.

The Car

The first car I owned that was titled in my name was my 1978 Plymouth Arrow. I bought it new in May of 1979 for $4,604.19. I had been looking to buy one for several months. I’d made offers on them and been turned down. There were five Plymouth dealers in Denver at the time, and I visited all of them. In January of 1979 I made an offer of $4,600 for a car at Colorado Chrysler Plymouth. They turned me down. It was this car that I bought for $4.19 more five months later. I drove that car 192,000 miles before trading it in. It was nothing like a race car. Shortly before I replaced it, I timed it from 0-60 at 22 seconds.

My old car, photo circa 1982

I met Brett when I was arranging with Dennis to drive his Chump Car. Not long after I met him, Brett sent an email to the group telling us he had an Arrow he wanted to turn into a race car. I couldn’t believe it. I’m pretty sure I haven’t seen one since I got rid of mine back in 1987. I went to his house and he showed me that he had three of them. This was a few years ago and I had more or less forgotten about it. In December, for some unknown reason, I wondered if he had ever gotten around to building his Arrow race car and reached out to him. I told him if he built it I wanted to drive it.

I told him I had no mechanical aptitude and just wanted to drive it. He and his team worked frantically for about six months getting the car ready. I made a few token appearances but was fundamentally uninvolved in developing the car. But I had talked to Brett about costs and agreed to his fee. I bought my Lemons license and wrote Brett a check. As the race approached we were still in touch via Facebook, going over trivia such as what our uniforms were and whether I’d camp at the track or commute. They were working feverishly on the car, and I thought I’d made it clear that I had nothing to contribute mechanically speaking. And Brett never made any specific requests to me for help, so I thought we were good.

Saturday June 9

I arrived at the track about 7:30 and found the team. I greeted Brett and he asked if I was there to race. “Yes, I am.” But he’s upset with me because I wasn’t helping on the car. They’d had some long nights, staying up until 3am and I was absent. They all assumed I was going to be a no-show today and he’s not sure he wants me to drive. He wants to think about it; he’s ready to give me my money back and send me home. This is clearly not an empty threat. They have the drivers names on the car and my name isn’t there. While he’s thinking about it, he said I should take my gear and get checked in.

My clothing passes tech and I get my tech sticker placed on my helmet. They check my name off the drivers list.

In the mean time, the team is making the final adjustments in preparation for getting the car to pass tech inspection. One of the problems they’d been having included a fuel leak near the fuel filter. Also, the filter had clogged up, so they find a replacement (a giant filter that would work on a Ford F-150 truck) and install it. With the car running, there’s no leak and they call it done and drive it over for the inspection. It passes.

The car runs, but we had no gauges: no fuel gauge, no speedometer, no tach, no temperature gauges. Brett gathers us drivers around and goes over some final instructions. The object is to get the car to the end of the race tomorrow afternoon. Don’t stress it, don’t overtax it. Keep it under 5100 rpm (without a tach!). Go easy on the brakes. Then there’s a deal for charity. Do we want to contribute $100? That would be $20 each. We agree, but (as is usual for me) I’m carrying about $12 cash. I tell Brett I’ll pay him back tomorrow and he agrees, but gives me an exasperated look.

While they were getting Jan in the car I managed to mount the old GoPro. I have a spare battery for the old camera so between the two cameras and extra battery I should be able to get video for three drivers. Each camera should run about an hour and a half. I don’t get it turned on, though. (It looks like Jan spotted the camera and tried to get it running, but there are two clips totaling less than 30 seconds, so she didn’t get it figured out. I assume it was Jan; whoever it was had a helmet on and I can’t see their face.)

Jan is first in the car. While she’s driving, we need to get some supplies. Brett divides the list among us, sending me and Steve to get gas. We throw eight 5 gallon containers into the back of his truck and head off to the truck stop twenty miles away for fuel. I pump the gas and Steve grabs some Mountain Dew and snacks. I learn that, at this gas station at least, you can only pump $95 worth of gas on a single transaction. I do another transaction for $43 more. I pumped forty one and a half gallons into our eight 5 gallon jugs.

Along the way we chat. He’s an interesting guy, spent a number of years in the Navy on nuclear submarines. He’s had some rough times and faces some challenges. We’re gone about an hour and at one point in the conversation he mentions that they had a guy who just wanted to drive, which is frowned upon by the team. I’m not sure whether he’s talking about me or not.

When we get back we find that the car has been out for only one lap. Brett reimburses me for the gas, and I clear my $20 debt with him then.

Bad gas from filter

James goes out next, comes back in pretty quickly with a fuel filter problem again. I have all my gear on the ground near the rear of the driver’s side of the car. As part of their diagnosis/fix of the problem, somebody has taken the gas cap off the car and when they blow compressed air through the fuel system, gas fountains out of the tank, drenching all my gear. Only moments before I had picked up the SLR, so it didn’t get doused. But all that was in the bag – my drivers suit, Nomex underwear, Nomex socks, driving boots, both GoPro cameras and the bag of accessories – got drenched as did my helmet sitting next to the bag. I spread all my gear out to get it dry, wipe off the cameras, squeeze out the gas soaking the padding in my helmet. My undershirt wasn’t hit too badly, but my long johns got it pretty good across the front. It all dries fairly quickly but everything I have smells strongly of gas.

I’m next in the car. I managed to swap the camera so I know I have a fresh battery. We have no radios, no pit board. How long should I stay in the car? Brett says it’s hot and I won’t want to be out long. I tell him otherwise; that I will have no problem staying in the car as long as he wants. He wants me out for an hour. I figure 20 laps will be about an hour and attempt to count my laps. I miscount, come in after 22. Half way through my stint a piece of the roll cage padding comes off. It’s a piece of plastic about four inches long. It rolls around by my feet, never getting stuck behind any pedals but annoying me several times. By now my groin area is a bit uncomfortable because of the gasoline on my long johns. It’s not bad and goes away shortly thereafter. They were dry by the time I put them on, so perhaps it was just my imagination.

At the end of my session I am black flagged. We were told that we can race after we pass the incident that caused the yellow flag. I’m following two cars and after we pass the tow truck, I pass the other two cars. It looked like the first guy was holding up the second and I got a good run. But no, we’re still under yellow and I get black flagged immediately. When I report, I tell them I’d passed the tow truck and thought we could race. “Don’t you think it was odd you passed somebody in this car?” But most cars were slow in the corkscrew and turn 3. Many are on the brakes when I’m on the throttle, so I’m faster than a lot of cars in those spots. Two or three other cars are reporting for their black flags immediately behind me so I wasn’t alone.

Later, a driver for one of the other teams comes up to us for a chat. He was a car or two behind me when I got black flagged. He says, “You got robbed!” He agrees with me that we had passed the incident and were okay to race. The track had not yet gone full-course yellow until after I made the pass. Previous corners had one white flag and one yellow. It wasn’t until after the start/finish that I saw two yellow flags. He said the corner worker at the station that flagged me wasn’t paying full attention and had to look up from her phone to wave the black flag at me. While it’s nice to have somebody siding with me, and I find it odd that so many of cars got flagged at the same time, I have to take his report with a grain of salt.

Hank is next in the car. We want to call him in for fuel. Brett and I are waiting near the pits for him but he never shows. Finally we see him on the flatbed. He’d had a wheel fall off. A spacer failed and the front left wheel went its own way just before turn 7. The arrival of the flatbed and stricken car draws a crowd, everybody snapping cell phone pictures. Hank looks a bit forlorn sitting in the car.

Hank in the stricken car draws a crowd

One of the teams nearby loans us a wheel that fits. After an hour to effect repairs, the car is back on the track with Brett behind the wheel. He gets called in because of a report that we’re leaking fuel. The LeMons guys can’t smell gas, so it’s not us. Brett thinks it’s the multi-colored 5 series BMW (which turns out to be the car driven by John F, one of my Lotus friends). Brett goes back out. I hang around the LeMons guys, curious to see what they’re doing. One looks at me: “Are you with the 5 car?” Yes. “Go to race control and watch the video to see where your wheel went.” I do. Glen tells me we can retrieve it with a truck after the track goes cold.

Brett stays out for the rest of the day (about another hour). A few minutes before the checkered flag we see him coming back being pushed by Glen on his quad. Brett ran it out of gas and ran it out of brakes.

We go looking for Glen to get permission to take a truck out for the tire. Can’t find him. We ask the LeMons guys where Glen is so we can get his clearance to go retrieve our wheel. They say no motorized vehicles are allowed on the track without Glen’s permission and are a miffed that we’re even looking to bother Glen. So we have to walk out with a wagon to get it. I borrow a wagon from the team next to us in the garage and we go searching. Aaron and James ride bikes, I drag the wagon. On the track, rolling the wagon behind me, my inner six-year-old wants to jump in the wagon and go sailing down the hill. I resist the temptation.

Glen is out sweeping the track. He stops and we talk. “I thought you were going to take a truck out to find your wheel.” LeMons guys said we couldn’t, and didn’t seem to like us looking for you.

We spend 20 minutes searching before we find it. I’m wearing shorts, traipsing through waist-high weeds and thistle. I get a bunch of burrs in my socks and later learn I got about twenty mosquito bites. Aaron and James ride back to the paddock and I trudge along pulling the wagon, chatting with a group of guys out walking the track.

Retrieving the missing wheel

Back in the paddock, they’re replacing the brake pads and fluid. I worked the brake during the flush, which is about the limit of my technical expertise. Brakes flushed, I ask Brett “would you be upset if I asked to leave now?” I get permission. It’s 9pm.

When I get home and start copying the video files to the hard drive, I discover that the gasoline has damaged the plastic on the housing for the newer GoPro. I’ll need to get it replaced before I go to Road America.

Grid Walk

Saturday June 2

If you’re an F1 fan you are probably familiar with the “grid walk”. American fans watched Will Buxton do it for a few years. British fans have been watching Martin Brundle do it for twenty years. It’s the segment of the F1 broadcast where Martin (or Will) walks through the grid just before the race, chatting up whoever he finds, whether it be drivers, team principles, or celebrities.

Today I did my little version of it. It’s nothing so glamorous. Today I helped run the grid for the CECA event at HPR. My job was to check the cars as they formed up on the grid before being released onto the track. I was to see that they had the proper wristband for the session, they had their tech sticker, their helmets were on, their seatbelts fastened, and were properly attired (long pants, long-sleeved shirts, no open toed shoes).

Each group is called to the grid starting about ten minutes before their session starts. Although there are typically a few cars that don’t arrive until their session starts, most of the cars in the group get lined up beforehand and wait in line for a short while. That allowed my garrulous self to have a quick chat with just about everybody. As each driver runs three or four sessions, the only drivers I didn’t talk to a few times were those who were late to join their sessions. Perhaps they were the only ones smart enough to avoid my small-talk.

Obviously, I’d rather be out running laps than working on the grid. But I had a good time nonetheless. Sure, I stood in the sun all day and got a bit sunburned (there wasn’t a cloud in the sky the entire time), walking up and down a short section of tarmac. But I got a good look at all the cars and although I didn’t have a radio, I could hear Joe’s and thus had a pretty good idea of what was going on everywhere.

The obligatory list of cars: three Elises and an Exige, two Ferraris (a 430 Scuderia and a 355 F1 Berlinetta), a Pantera, a couple of Miatas, a Mini, a 1969 Mercury Cougar XR-7 (boasting a built 351cid motor pumping out 450hp), 3 Scion FR-S, 2 Vipers, a Camaro, a stable of Mustangs, a fleet of Corvettes, and a scad of Porsches and a few miscellaneous others. We had twenty or so cars in each group, so a busy day for a CECA event.

Here are a few tidbits I gleaned:

  • I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the Ferrari 355 was no garage queen, having over 46,000 miles on the odometer being tracked regularly.
  • One of the Vipers was being driven by a fellow who had not driven the car before that morning.
  • A chap in a Corvette not only hadn’t driven that car before today, but this was his first time driving a left-hand drive stick shift. (He was a recent transplant from Australia.)
  • A fully race-prepared Mustang hit the track with the ECU still in transport mode, where the engine wouldn’t rev more than 3,000 rpm. The owner managed to get it sorted before his second session.

We had no tow truck for this event. Instead, we relied on a pickup truck with a tow strap. We had to deploy it three or four times. One stricken car (a brand new Mustang) had no tow hook. Luckily, he was just out of gas so the sketchy tow was avoided.

One of the cars that needed to be towed in was Mark’s black Elise. The battery came loose. When it happened to me last year, it stayed hooked up and I didn’t know it was flopping around until I opened the boot in the paddock. In Mark’s case (or his daughter’s, actually) the battery not only became disconnected, it leaked acid in the boot. The car stopped, the gauges froze, and they had a bit of a mess to clean up. They didn’t seem to suffer any clam damage though.

I spent a lot of my time standing next to the wall at the end of the pit straight and entry into turn 1. I was a bit surprised how quiet most of the cars were. I may be wrong, but I’m thinking my car is louder than any of the four Lotus that were running today.

This is one of the three passing zones on the track. It’s up close and personal. One of the others is on the highway straight, which is also visible from here. The third is between turns 5 and 6, out of sight over the hill to the west. Obviously, this isn’t racing, but it’s interesting to see which cars are fast, and which drivers are fast. Best example perhaps was one of the FR-S’s. When I thought I saw it pass the yellow Ferrari, I asked Joe. “That FR-S just pass the Ferrari?” “Yup.” Next time around he passed a Viper. The next lap the Ferrari passed the Viper but both were still on the tail of the FR-S. Then the FR-S opened up some space. At the end of the day I talked with the FR-S driver. He says the car is totally stock. But he does have some racing experience, so he knows how to get around a track.

Late in the day, a 1969 Mustang came off the track and when they parked it in the paddock it promptly caught fire. The fuel filler is above the rear bumper in the center. He had an old gas cap which evidently leaked, spilling fuel on the exhaust. They managed to put out the fire with little damage, but it did cause a bit of excitement.

I think the oddest part of my day was during the lunch break. They allow for some “parade” laps. With no corner workers out, we were allowed a few slow laps, limited to about 60mph. I did three laps. It felt strange being on the track with no helmet, going slow. The idea was that Joe would lead the parade. But he and I were the only cars out, and we were half a lap apart. I made a half-hearted attempt to take all the slow turns as fast as I could, so long as I never topped sixty. It felt pretty weird.

I’d much rather be driving than working grid, but I was happy to lend a helping hand. I don’t see why I can’t do this again, perhaps once each year.