Incident at Woody Creek

Friday, September 15

We never got any notice of the schedule for our day at Woody Creek. At dinner last night I asked around but never got a definitive answer. Somebody said that they’d be driving the race cars to the track with police escort in two groups, one in the morning and one around noon. But there was no agreement on when the morning group would go. Also, I was told that it would just be parade laps, twelve cars at a time. Another said we’d get some “spirited driving”. If it was just to be parade laps, we would get an early start for home.

A couple of people suggested that I couldn’t go wrong if I showed up at the track at 7:30. So that’s what we decided to do.

We arrived promptly at 7:30 and the gate was still locked. Within a few minutes we got in, signed the waivers, and were sent to the paddock. It wasn’t a paddock so much as a short go-kart track. We went the wrong way a couple of times and finally had to be escorted to the parking area on the little go-kart track.

We were there quite early, as it turned out. We chatted with the guys running the track: Jason, Kevin, and Canadian Paul, who’s actually an Aussie. They mentioned that there would be a guy there later with a drone getting aerial shots. He’d share the footage and they said I could use it in my video. Sounds good to me!

By the time the call came that the RMVR guys were on the way, it was suggested that I go run a few laps. Get out there, do a “sighting lap”. It rained last night, check on the puddles. Check out the cone chicane. Chad could verify that all the signal lights were working. Basically just a list of excuses to get out on the track before anybody else showed up.

You don’t have to twist my arm to get me out on the track. I started off slowly, as the car had cooled off. It took a lap to get up to temperature. I ran two laps, then a third. I was starting to figure out where the track went, was starting to add a little speed.

Then, on the fourth lap, we heard a “pop” and the car spun and stalled. The right rear suspension was deranged, reminiscent of several years ago when the left side failed on my first lap at HPR.

As I was the only car on the track, I got out of the car to investigate. I waved at the guy in the control tower and they dispatched a truck. We jacked the car up and put dollies under both rear wheels. As I only have a tow ring in the front, we towed me the wrong way back off the track. By this time, the race cars had arrived. The paddock overlooks the track, and dozens of people were watching, taking pictures of me as I was slowly dragged off the track..

It was an odd sensation, having no control over the back end of the car. I had to brake sometimes to keep tension on the strap. Because the rear wheels were on casters, they’d go in any direction and I had no rear brakes. I tried to steer such that the back of the car was in line with the strap, but that wasn’t always possible. In retrospect, I should have had the cameras running.

Going down the hill we hit the only pothole in the place and the left side dolly got kicked up into the bodywork, causing some minor collateral damage. It happened again, not as badly, when we hit the transition from asphalt to concrete.

I spent a miserable morning trying to figure out what to do. Jason and Paul would help at the end of the day. If it was an easy fix, it might not get done in time for us to head home before dark. If it wasn’t an easy fix, where would I get it fixed? How far would I have to tow it? Bill suggested I ask around, perhaps I could find some RMVR member who had towed a street legal car. Maybe they could trailer my car and drive theirs.

I texted Michael, who gave me the number of a shop in nearby Carbondale run by his friend’s dad. If it wasn’t an easy fix, perhaps he could tow it to his shop and do the repair there. Maybe I’d need Genae to come get us. Maybe Chad should try to get a ride back home. I was definitely not having a fun time.

We had skipped breakfast to get here early and now had no transport available to get some lunch. Paul offered us the use of his car, or maybe we could walk to the Woody Creek Tavern, a “rustic tavern wallpapered with Hunter S. Thompson memorabilia.” As luck would have it, somebody bought a bunch of sandwiches for the general consumption. I don’t know who did it, but it’s much appreciated.

I tried to keep occupied. I talked to the guy with the Mercury Comet. He hadn’t caught on fire. Some fuel got dumped and that’s what burned; his car was fine. When I first saw it yesterday, I thought it was a Maverick. This car was red; one of my cousins had a red Maverick back in the day. I haven’t seen one in ages. I’ll admit that I think it’s a pretty good looking car.

They guy with the #27 Mustang was there. I told him what car I drive and said that he’d passed me at the RAKC lunch with every passenger I took out. I told him that I was intrigued by the line he took in turn 11 at HPR. I said that I’d tried it and it was faster for me than my usual line. He said he does it because he doesn’t have power steering.

The afternoon group turned out to be only a handful of cars. Jason felt things were under control so he came over to help me with the car. When I say “help me”, I mean “do all the work”. We pulled the wheel off and he quickly came to the conclusion that all we needed to do was replace two bolts that had sheared. These bolts connect the hub carrier with the ball joint plinth. When they failed, of course, the shims were scattered. Chad found one right away, I found a second a before we moved the car. Kevin came back with a big one a couple of hours later.

So, the damage: The remains of the two bolts had to be extracted from the hub carrier. Some part had machined the inside of the wheel, a narrow, shallow grove. Aluminum curly cues were hanging from the rear panel. A brake line got a pretty bad scuff and needs to be replaced. From the car falling off the dolly, the left side of the rear panel is bent and there’s some fiberglass damage. Everything else looked to be in good shape. No bent suspension parts.

I gave Jason what meager assistance I could as he worked on getting the sheared bolts drilled out. He was eventually able to do this without disassembling any of the suspension or brakes. Then we searched through big bins of bolts – metric large, metric medium – that they’d salvaged from cars over the years. We found some of the correct size and thread pitch (but not hardness!) and I helped him install them. This was about the best possible outcome. I was so relieved.

Jason is a Lotus guy. He used to have an M100 Elan, in British Racing Green. Now he’s working on a barn-find Europa. He was going to put a TDi engine in it, but has had to go another direction. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say again: Lotus isn’t just a car, it’s a community.

I suspect that these two bolts that sheared are in fact the point of failure of the incident back in 2011. That happened exiting turn 2 at HPR. Everything was damaged except the toe link brace, but nobody could tell me what the point of failure was. I think the difference in the resulting damage is down to having it happen at a lower speed.

The first one happened at the start of my first lap of the day, this one midway through the fourth. That would make both of them after less than five miles of driving. Neither instance happened at a particularly high speed. This one I was in second, the other in third. In fact, I’m much faster through turn 2 of HPR now than I was six years ago. In neither case did I hit a curb or a bump; there was no abrupt force applied.

It was good that it happened when I was solo on track. Had this happened with somebody behind me, it might have been trouble. I spun and came to a stop in just a few car lengths, diagonally across the track in a place with poor visibility.

Jason got it all together just after three and I took it for a quick little test drive. Paul joked that I could do the test drive on the track, but that wasn’t going to happen. This is a temporary fix, sufficient to get me home and the car to Ferrari of Denver for Ryan to get the correct bolts and make sure everything is actually okay.

I may have him replace the bolts on the other side. It’s clear now that these are a maintenance item. I’ll get some advice as to how often to replace them. I’m pretty sure I can do the job myself without much difficulty.

I had been pretty stressed out all day and was relieved that I got out of this without major difficulties. Jason was a real life saver.

But I was still feeling some stress. This is a temporary fix and should be okay. But I was somewhat paranoid. I thought it would be better to go through Glenwood Springs, taking interstate or four land highways the whole way. No sharp turns, no cliffs without guardrails. Approaching Glenwood, Navigator announced “There is heavy traffic in your area” and routed us a way I’ve never been. We wondered how much of this was caused by the big bridge project. Is it like this every day? It took us forever to go fifteen miles.

Many times on the drive home I imagined what would happen if the bolts failed right now. What if I hit some big bump and it broke? What would that eighteen wheeler behind us do to us? Every rough patch of road made me nervous. That trepidation mellowed as I got closer to home, but it never really went away. We went through several bridge repairs in progress: the asphalt was ground off and the seams were big, sharp bumps. Each one was excruciating.

We made it home without incident. I was exhausted.

Woody Creek isn’t defined in my lap timer’s library. I needed to set the start/finish location before I could get lap times. I figured I could do that before the first actual session of the day so I didn’t run the lap timer for this “session”. Note that you can see one of the shims hit the ground in the rear view camera.

RMVR Snowmass Crowd Control

A few months ago, Chad and I decided to volunteer to do crowd control for the Rocky Mountain Vintage Racers street race in Snowmass. We would be responsible for controlling pedestrian and vehicle traffic. The only better view of the race was had by the corner marshals. A big motivation for me was that the volunteers had the opportunity to run laps at Woody Creek the next day. If a free track day is involved, sign me up!

It takes a lot of people to put on a street race. A race at a track requires people to do race control, deal with the grid, and maybe a dozen corner stations. You need all the gear for those people: radios, flags, fire extinguishers, brooms. You have to be able to get the corner workers to their stations, make sure they have food and water, and you have to be able to collect them at the end of the day. For a street race, you have all that plus the town’s police department, fire department, emergency workers, and enough volunteers to control vehicle and pedestrian traffic. Before the event, somebody has to place barriers and signage and when we’re all done it all gets taken down. Oh, and there’s a massive communications effort to keep the citizenry informed.

I kept wondering just how many people were involved. I’m guessing about fifty people were required to do race control, grid, and corner workers. Another fifty for crowd control. Add in another handful of folks in supporting roles and you may be approaching 120 people. That’s before you add in the town’s side of it. And, of course, the sixty or so drivers and their support. It’s a big operation.

Our plan was to leave Denver late afternoon Wednesday, drive over Independence Pass, and check in at the hotel before ten. Thursday would start with a 7:30am meeting, then get into our positions until 5:00pm followed by a nice dinner starting at 6:00. Friday would be Woody Creek, leaving for home no later than 4:00pm. A couple of nights in a hotel, a couple of tanks of gas, a couple of pleasant days in the Colorado mountains. Sounds like a plan.

We were told that we should bring fold up camp chairs, water and snacks, sunscreen, hats, sunglasses, a fully charged cell phone, and a cooler or backpack to carry it all in. We’d be spending two nights, so we needed a couple changes of clothes. Because I wanted to run laps, we would also need our helmets. Of course, we stood no chance of getting all this into the Elise with us so we crossed off a few of the items. No chairs or coolers for us.

After all the final adjustments, we managed to be out the door before four, which meant we’d get over Independence Pass before total darkness. It was a beautiful drive. The aspen are just beginning to change. We went up I-70 then over Fremont Pass to Leadville, where we had burritos. The highlight of the drive is Independence Pass. The sun hadn’t set yet, but the road was in shadow on the eastern end of the pass. It was dusk as we descended the western side. We had to keep a keen eye out for wildlife. We saw goats, deer, and an elk.

September 14: Race Day

We were out the hotel door before seven and went to the Westin, next door, in search of food and drink. Oddly, there was none to be had until seven when the Starbucks downstairs opens.

Our Crowd Control meeting was held immediately after the corner workers meeting, so we got started a little late. The meeting was pretty quick: “Here are the position assignments, here are radios, we put the ladies closest to the porta-potties, We’ll be closing and opening the track for traffic all day, no lunch break but we’ll hand out sandwiches. Bring your radio back or you don’t get a dinner ticket.”

On the way out the door we were to collect a whistle, ear plugs, a t-shirt, patch, and poster, and our credentials. I only saw one sort of badge and grabbed it, but it turned out to be the incorrect one. The corner workers badge was blue and said “On Track Access”. The crowd control badge was green and said “Trackside Access”. I grabbed the blue one in error.

I was in CC 11, which was the western end of the driveway for Tamarack townhouses on Carriage Way. Corner 12 was directly across the street, and Chad was posted at the driveway next to them. And the porta-pottie was there.

It’s a fairly steep uphill section. I first see the cars below me, to my left, as they exit an off-camber right turn. They’re wide open throttle from there until they reach my position, where they enter a braking zone for the left hander above me on my right. It’s my job to keep people behind the tape and stopping anybody from exiting the driveway. I was to keep them the double-taped areas entirely.

They say “three is a crowd”. That’s about what it was for me. I only had to deal with one car, a bicyclist, and a few pedestrians all day. When the track was open to traffic, I’d stand at the top of the driveway. One of the corner workers at 11 said if he was driving, he’d want to put his right front tire right where I was standing. The instructions were to keep people thirty feet back, which I paced out to be at a seam in the asphalt. An easy reference point.

I put myself a few feet up toward the track. Through some trees, I could see the cars slide into view at the bottom of the hill. The cars roar up the hill and pass my driveway. I’m standing a few feet below the road, so the cars go by at eye level. There are three classes: small bore, big bore, and open wheel. When the big bore V-8’s blast up the hill it’s a very visceral sensation. I’m not particularly a V-8 fan, but there’s no denying the spectacle.

I have so little to do when the track is open that I spend a fair amount of time across the street visiting with Chad and our corner workers. They aren’t RMVR regulars, but were in town with the Porsche club who had an event on Saturday. They were a hoot. He wore the radio headset all the time and couldn’t hear us well. He clearly operated on the principle that if he couldn’t hear us, we couldn’t hear him, so he tended to yell a lot.

The corner workers were on a different channel than crowd control. Ours was almost non-stop chatter of about three stations up at the paddock and grid. A litany of “I’m sending one down, a white F-150” or “Three down, the last one a green Mazda” and once a “UPS coming down.” I did get to make call one time to say some people were in front of the tape at a station below me.

Our corner workers kept us informed. He’d signal five minutes to track closing. When the track was open, cars could go one way, counter to the race direction. We closed the track when a police car would pass us, making eye contact with each volunteer and announcing that the track was closing. He’d come by again after the session and the track would be open.

Early on, there was nearly a coming together right in front of me in the small bore group. One car catching another, got a bit unsettled by getting a bit of curb, came within inches of the car in front. That said, the event was fairly accident free. A BMW hit a barrier lightly, causing some front fender damage. A Mercury Comet was said to have caught fire, and somebody hit a hay bale.

The morning was gorgeous, and the time passed fairly quickly. After lunch, though, was a different story. Clouds had been accumulating. We had a short shower and later got hit with a bit of a downpour. We even had sixty or ninety seconds of light hail. A session for the big bores started in the dry but encountered a moderate shower. Only one of the cars had windshield wipers, but it didn’t seem to slow them down much. Then lightning was reported seven or eight miles away.

We stopped the race and they brought the truck around and picked us all up, drove us to a covered area where we waited for the storm to pass. Of course, to get back to our position with one-way traffic, we got to go around the whole course. From my place, I could also see a downhill section of Bush Creek Road. I was wondering why they weren’t going faster. Turns out there were several hay bale chicanes.

This interruption broke the flow of things; seemed to make the day longer, forced a recalibration of the schedule. Entropy set in a bit, instructions were announced, then quickly countermanded. Still, given the circumstances everything went off without any major issues.

It was raining again before Robert came by in the van to collect us after the last race. Everybody reconvened in the room we had our morning meetings and we had a beer. Then it was off to dinner. We took the gondola from the hotel down to the restaurant. We rode with the BMW driver who hit one of the barriers. He showed us a photo; the damage didn’t look to bad, but that’s easy for me to say.

They had closed the restaurant for us and we packed the place. Chad and I were among the first to arrive. Nobody asked for our tickets, other than the guy at the door who was curious what they looked like. I had the pulled pork, corn bread, and raisin coleslaw.

I had a good time, really enjoyed the day. I talked to a couple of locals who said the village was more crowded than usual for this time of year – summer over, but the aspen not yet turned. They enjoyed seeing the cars and said they thought it was a successful event. If they do it again next year, I think I’ll volunteer again.

Loose Battery, Revisited

When I said I’d dodged a bullet when my battery came loose at the track, I was incorrect. I should have waited to make that declaration until after washing the car. With a pretty heavy coat of dirt and road grime and in the garage I didn’t get a good look at it. Now that I’ve bathed her, I can see the extent.

There’s a little “pimple” just above and left of the center of the photo, along with an array of spiderwebbing.

Now that I’ve put it all back together, I see that the battery was installed “backwards” when it was replaced on my way to Austin. I had no idea the base of the battery wasn’t symmetrical, so I didn’t know to check it. So that would mean that it stayed put for COTA, La Junta, and the RAKC lunch laps. It had to come loose on a left hand turn. La Junta only has one, and all of COTA’s fast turns are right handers.

The charity laps amounted to about a session’s worth of laps. With passengers, I was five to six seconds a lap slower. RaceChrono logs g-forces, in theory. The data for Thursday’s sessions looks reasonable but the lunch lap data is clearly bogus. It indicates a max of 3.4g’s, which is pure fantasy and double what it records for Thursday.

I can’t help but wonder what made it come loose, and how long was it banging around? I had the boot open between sessions, so it was sometime in my second session. I didn’t hear anything. The engine is between my ears and the boot, I have a helmet on, and with no top there’s some wind noise. Still, shouldn’t I have heard it? And I didn’t hit any curbs and didn’t go off; there was no jarring event. (I went two off in the first session, not roughly, and the battery was still in place before the second set.)

Oh, well. What’s done is done. I’ll have to have it repaired sooner or later, but it will have to be later. I’ve needed some fiber repair on the front clam for quite some time. I’ve worn holes, so you might say the nose has nostrils now. This battery damage essentially doubles the bill. None of it will likely get fixed in the next twelve months.

Thursday Night Open Lapping

Thursday, August 31

High Plains has offered Thursday night open lapping for the last two summers. I’ve been wanting to do it but somehow never made it a priority. They run a hot track from 5 to 9pm. Last week Scott asked if I wanted to go. I pondered it a day or so before responding in the affirmative. Scott and Mark met me at the park and ride.

I’ve never lapped at night and I’ve never lapped in wet conditions. With sunset at about 7:30, I would certainly get to drive in the dark. And this time of year is perfect for evening thunder showers on Colorado’s eastern plains so I felt there was a better than even chance of some rain.

Heading east on I-70 we could see a dark cloud above Byers, dropping rain from one end. We had to stop at the gas station for fuel. I pulled up to the pump but stayed in the car. The roof isn’t exactly rain proof and I had a couple of big leaks dripping on the sills. I was pondering how long I’d sit there, delaying the inevitable drenching, when the rain noticeably slackened. Even though I sat in the car while the gas pumped, my shirt got pretty wet. Which, in turn, caused all the windows to fog up.

Mark and I were fueled up but Scott hadn’t started yet. So we ditched him, Top Gear style, and headed to the track. A couple of miles down the road we were out from under the cloudburst and back on dry roads.

I didn’t get a car count, but we had a small enough turnout that we didn’t run any groups.

I may have been the fastest car on the track when I headed out the first time. Nobody ever passed me, and I passed six or eight cars. It was sprinkling a bit; for a short time I had to put the wipers on intermittent. The track surface never got wet. It never was wet enough to glisten. But every now and then, I could feel a little loss of traction.

I guess it was a little perverse of me to want it to rain. There were a few showers in the vicinity, none likely as wet as what we had at the gas station. They’re happy to run the track in the wet, as long as no nearby lightning endangers the corner workers. But although lightning occasionally flashed on the horizon, neither lightning nor rain was an issue tonight.

I finally got a working suction mount for the phone. The last few track days I’ve had to keep the phone in my pocket where I can’t see it. It’s a big help to get the immediate feedback on what you’re doing. I tried changing my line through one turn. Run a couple of laps the old way, then a couple the new way and see whether I’m gaining or losing time.

During my second session they had to deploy the tow truck to collect a stricken BMW between turns 6 and 7. I was expecting it to take a lap longer than it did for them to complete the operation. The tow truck was on the move before I got to the start/finish line. As I approached turns 1 and 2, the yellow lights were getting turned off. I passed the truck on the highway straight. Next time around, he was hooking up the car. He took the short-cut at the top of the hill and were off the track by the time I came back around again. That’s something like eight minutes. Very efficient.

After the second session I opened the boot lid to find my battery out of its mount, laying on its side. I got lucky here. I’ve seen pictures of rear clams damaged by a loose battery. It can cause serious damage. I never heard it banging around and there’s no damage I can see.

The bracket had not come loose, the battery just popped out of the mount. I attempted a repair but was unable to get it secure. So my day was done. When I expressed my disappointment that I didn’t get to drive in the dark, Scott, the generous guy he is, offered to let me take a few laps in his car. Twist my arm.

Although I’ve ridden in many Elises, this is the first time I’ve driven one other than my own. It’s only the second car I’ve tracked that isn’t mine (the Mazda Chump Car being the other). Scott’s car is supercharged and he’s on better tires. I had my doubts about the tires, though. They had been stored in the cold over the winter and I’ve heard bad things about that. Also, the suspension is different, his being standard and mine being track pack.

He gave me the keys and said, “Don’t break it! Try to do more like a 2:20 than a 2:13.” I ran a few laps. I had the phone in my pocket, so I couldn’t see what my times were until I was out of the car. My first impressions were how different the car is. The seats are different (mine are cloth, his are leather). The clutch had a different feel, he’s got a different shifter.

And the most obvious difference is the power. I never pushed the car. I short-shifted and was on the brakes much earlier than usual. Even so, I was often in fourth gear in places where I’m always in third. Turns out I did a 2:17 and topped 119mph on the highway straight. That’s 10mph faster than I managed in my car tonight. Without pushing it.

I was really looking forward to driving in the dark, and would have enjoyed driving in the wet, but missed out on both. I was hoping to get four sessions, which would have made the event about half the cost per lap as a day with CECA. But with the mechanical failure, I only got two sessions so it was back to par.

Battery

Turns out it was an easy fix – I didn’t realize the lip on the base of the battery was not symmetrical. If I’d turned it around 180 degrees I’d have been in business. I had the battery replaced on my trip to Austin in June. I’m wondering if it was installed improperly since then. If so, it managed to sit tight for about three track days (COTA, La Junta, and the RAKC lunch laps).

I’ve seen photos of damage done to other people’s Elises due to the battery flopping around in the boot. I’ve had a good look and don’t see the slightest sign of damage to my car. I’d say I dodged a bullet.

Turn Signals

From the time I bought the car, the left turn signal has blinked at twice the rate of the right. Some have said this is an indication that the turn signal will fail. It kept working for me for quite a while. But for the last five years or so the left rear hasn’t been working. I’ve tried a couple of proposed solutions without finding a fix. I was told that the entire unit needs to be replaced. There are two problems with this answer. First, the parts are about impossible to find. Second, the assembly is quite expensive.

So I’ve been using hand signals. I still use the signal, as the front works okay. I just use the hand signal when there’s somebody behind me.

Last week on the way home from the LoCo picnic I noticed that the left turn signal was now blinking at the same rate as the right side. Back home in the garage, I got out to look. Sure enough, it was working! As I stood there watching, it began to alternate between blinking slow and fast. The joy was short-lived, though, as it quickly went back to blinking fast and not working. It worked for perhaps two minutes.

On the way home from HPR it worked for the entire drive. It has failed again since then, though, so I’m back to hand signals. I find it odd that it doesn’t work for years and now all of a sudden decides to work every now and then.

Tires

I bought Yokohama tires last year for track days. I got four days out of them. The rears are almost slick. The fronts have tread, but I’m pretty sure they’re heat cycled out. I expected to get at least six days, so I’m pretty disappointed. On the first of those four days I recorded my personal best lap time at HPR: 2:09 and a fraction. Since then, a 2:14 has been my best. I’ve managed 2:14 on the Dunlops, so I’d have to say my disappointment isn’t limited to their longevity.

So now I’ve done a 2:13 with the Dunlops. That’s with a full fuel tank and a light rain falling. I’m certain the 2:09 is out of range on the Dunlops. But I’m out there lapping for fun, not to win any races. I see no reason to buy sticky track tires. I’ll see what I can get in the 300 treadwear range. A little stickier than the Direzzas, but should last a good long time if I use them only for track days.

The Video

When I’m searching through YouTube for track videos, I tend to whine if they don’t have any gauges, track map, or timer. So I’m being a naughty boy by not having any gauges or a map in this day’s highlight reel. And it only has a lap timer because you can see it on my phone.

RMVR/RAKC

Saturday, July 29

It’s that time of year again, when Rocky Mountain Vintage Racers do their big event and raise money for the Race Against Kids’ Cancer, benefiting the Morgan Adams Foundation.

On the road to the track, it was overcast and cool, and a few raindrops fell on me. I was looking forward to a cool day. It was not to be. At the track the sun was shining brightly through scattered clouds, and it was warm and muggy.

My contribution to the event involves giving rides during the lunch hour. It’s called ‘Ticket to Ride’, and people donate $50, $100, or $250 for a ride, depending on the car. A couple years ago I was a $100 car. This year I’ve been demoted to a $50 car, which is where I figured I should be, given the other cars that were there.

Photo courtesy Mike Rogers, Driven Imagery

This year the goal is to raise $150,000 that will be used to purchase a machine called an IncuCyte ZOOM. It’s used by cancer researchers in the Pediatric Brain Tumor Research Program. Just before I went on track, Heike came out of race control and chatted with me a bit while I was lined up waiting to get into pit lane. She said they had already exceeded their target. It gives me a bit of a “warm fuzzy” to be able to contribute, even just a little.

The program says people are buying three laps: out lap, fast lap, and in lap. I did this year what I did last year, and ran a second fast lap. I asked them all if they wanted to do that extra lap, and the all gave me the thumbs up. Sometimes we got stuck for a while behind slower cars, so I felt that was a good excuse to put in that second lap.

I gave four rides. My first rider was a kid who could barely see out the windshield. You can’t even see his helmet in the video. My second rider, maybe 20 years old, told me the Elise was his childhood dream car. Third and fourth riders were grid girls. They get free rides. The first girl screamed a lot. It was her first time in a car on track. At first I thought they might be cries of terror but she kept giving me two thumbs up. The second grid girl had just gotten a ride in a BMW.

The first thing I did when I got out of the car was turn off the cameras. The rear mounted one wasn’t running. It was powered up but not recording. I was sure I had pressed the shutter. The battery wasn’t dead, and the memory card was empty when I started so I’m not sure why it stopped. My lap timer recorded for 54 minutes, I got 54 minutes on the front facing camera, but only 44 minutes on the rear one. Seems like it’s always something. If my major malfunction for the day is losing 9 minutes of video it’s a good day.

Each year, the array of cars running lunch laps gets more interesting. This year, Kent brought his BMW i8. There was a 2006 Ford GT, a fully race prepared Aston Martin Vantage, an Ariel Atom, a Porsche Carrera GT, a Subaru rally car, and an assortment of 911s, a Corvette, a recent Mustang, and a 350Z. A few of the RMVR racers had passenger seats, and these ran as well: a classic Mustang and Firebird, and an old MG. Ralph Schomp BMW brought out a bunch of BMWs and Minis. I was the only Lotus today.

With Tanner Foust. It looks like I’ve been sucking on a lemon.

This is the seventh year RMVR is doing this. This is the fourth time I’ve driven the lunch laps. The whole event seems to get bigger each year. I think this is the second or third year they’re doing a Pro-Am race. This years pro drivers include Alex Figge, Nick Ham, Robb Holland, Robby Unser, Randy Pobst, Tanner Foust, and a couple of others. One of the others is a guy called Paul Gerrard, who was The Stig for the American version of Top Gear.

Last year, after we were done giving laps, we drivers were treated to a lunch and plenty of cold beverages. I looked around but didn’t see where to go. I was hungry and thirsty so I bought a burger and soda and sat in the pavilion and ate. While I was eating, William came by and told me he had gotten a ride with Randy Pobst. William told him he wanted to learn something, so Pobst kept up a running commentary of how to get around the track, all the while going at a pretty good clip. William particularly wanted to see Pobst’s footwork, but said taking his eyes off the track made him a bit queasy.

About half way through my burger I saw where the lunch drivers were congregating. I didn’t need any more to eat, but certainly could do with some more hydration so when I finished my burger, I went over and joined the crowd.

The driver of the Ford GT was there. I needed to apologize to him. He was going quite slow and I needed to pass him a couple of times. The first time was between turns 2 and 3. I was sure he pointed me by on his right but before I was around him he was moving toward me. He was pretty casual about it. It looks pretty close to me on the video. Rather than pointing me by, he was putting his fist in the air, which signals he’s going into the pits. That was inappropriate here, we were nowhere near the track exit. Fortunately, I passed him pretty quickly and there was no drama. In viewing the video, I see that he was always using this gesture.

I grabbed my second bottle of water and a tiny square of dessert and took a seat. I was with Foust and Pobst and a few other guys. It didn’t take long to figure out that they were the pros. It turned out to be Ham, Figge, and Holland, but nobody was using any names. Robb Holland and I finally introduced ourselves to each other in the end, but I didn’t know who they were until later. I had it pretty well narrowed down, but didn’t know which names went with which faces.

I would say that I spent an hour chatting with them. It may be difficult to believe, but I didn’t say much. I just listened. It started with somebody asking Foust if he was going to watch the new season of Top Gear, which led to him to talking a bit about his time working on the show. He said it was one hundred fifty days of work a year, and the days were long with every hour planned. He said nobody on the show knew who the Stig was except whoever wrote the paychecks. He knew who it was, though, as he knew Paul and helped get him the job. When he was on the set he never spoke and didn’t shake hands with anybody. But sometimes Paul would show up for dinner on shooting days, “just coincidentally” in the area. Nobody ever suspected he was the Stig.

Foust got up and left after a while. The rest of the guys kept chatting. They had all raced against each other for years, sometimes as teammates. They were waxing nostalgic. “Remember that time at Miller where my car broke?” “And mine broke at the same time and I parked behind you?” “And the time you had that crash at Miller.” “That was a bad one, but the crash in Detroit was the worst.” I could have listened to them for the rest of the day.

I wonder how many of the pros were on track while I was doing laps. William tells me that only a couple were doing lunch laps, but that many of the others were out with their Pro-Am partners testing the cars. I know Pobst was driving the Focus and I did see a couple of the Schomp Minis in and out of the pits. Although I was running laps with five or six or seven pro drivers, I don’t think I passed or was passed by any of them.

I’m a big football fan but I’ve never had the delusion that I could ever do what Joe Montana or Terrell Davis could do. I was never going to throw a perfect spiral fifty yards down the field while stepping up in the pocket, facing a safety blitz or catch a screen pass in the flat and go the distance. I also don’t have the delusion that I could do what Michael Schumacher or Lewis Hamilton could do. But I can watch a sports car race or a touring car race and imagine doing it, and doing it well. Sure, it’s a delusion too. But I just ran a bunch of laps on a race track with a half dozen accomplished professionals and never got passed. My delusion survives intact!

And I think it’s pretty cool that I got to see some pretty cool cars get out on the race track.

I had a really good time.

WarBird Auto Show

The WarBird Auto Show is a combined car and air show. I’m not sure how long it’s been going on. I think this is the third year. This is my first time.

They wanted us registered cars to be there by 7:00, but I shot for more like a quarter after. On I-70 I passed a Model A Ford that was doing about sixty. That’s certainly as fast as I’d want to go in one of those. Automotive safety hadn’t been invented yet. The tires, the brakes, no seatbelts. As I got closer to Front Range airport, I found myself a few cars behind a line of Jaguars. When we got onto the apron, the Jags were sent to the left and I got sent to the right.

I found myself parked with about twenty other cars between two hangars. They left a big open area here, only parking cars along the east and south edges. The were running a shuttle bus from the parking area and this is where it turned around. All the other cars were between the hangers and the taxiways. I would rather have been out there. This was sort of out-of-the-way.

Of the twenty or so cars, only two were imports: myself and the mid-60’s Karman Ghia on my immediate left. We were also the only non-front engined cars. There were several mid to late 60’s GM cars – a few Chevy Impalas, a Pontiac Tempest. The 1931 Model A I passed on the interstate, a 2016 Saleen Mustang, a few other modern cars.

Next to the Model A was a 1965 Chrysler Newport. When I was a kid we had a ’64 Newport, so I recognized it right away. The car was straight but needed some care. The light blue paint had no shine, the steel wheels were rusty, but all the parts looked to be there. It could be a nice car, given a bit of TLC. But I must be the only one to like this era Mopar car. I never see them anywhere.

At the end of the row were three Shelby replicas. One had a nice wrap that simulated an airplane: aluminum panels with rivets and seams, pinup nose art, and pilot’s, co-pilots, and mechanic’s names “painted” on. I watched him fire it up and drive out of his spot. He never returned to our cul-de-sac but I did spot him later.

Being out-of-the-way wasn’t without its advantages. We were close to the food trucks but out of the traffic. Porta potties were also close, but not too close.

The cars were lined up at the east end of the apron and a swap meet was on the west end. I made one pass through the swap meet but didn’t find anything that caught my interest.

I’d say there were perhaps 175 cars there. Most were classic American iron, Ford, GM, and Chrysler cars from the fifties and sixties. There were a few antique cars and several hot rods. Not many exotics and not many imports. A vinyl wrap outfit had a couple of Lamborghinis. I didn’t see any Ferraris, Astons, or Alfas. One or two Minis, less than a handful of BMWs. There was one other Lotus: an orange Elise.

I asked several people if they’d been to this show before. Quite a few had. The consensus was that the earlier shows had more cars but fewer planes and there were fewer people this time. I don’t know if that’s good or bad. I was expecting a good number of planes and may have been disappointed had there been fewer. And I liked that the crowd wasn’t too bad, but I have no idea how many people have to attend to make it a going concern.

Some of the planes were there when I arrived. Others flew in over the next hour or so. Until all the planes where there, we had to remain behind the rope. Once they were all parked we had free run of the place.

The star of the show, I think, was the B-25 Mitchell. I’m not a good plane spotter. I know only the most common WW II planes. There were two P-51 Mustangs, two T-6 Texans, a French jet with a tail like a Beechcraft Bonanza, two biplanes, and a P-40 Warhawk that didn’t fly today due to a mechanical issue.

There were a couple of Russian Yaks. One of the owners wore a t-shirt that said, “YAKs Don’t Leak Oil – They Mark Their Territory” I’ve seen similar on shirts for British sports cars.

During the little time I spent by my car I let several people sit in it. Usually it’s just little kids, but today none of the kids wanted to. But about six guys did one after another. One guy asked, and I agreed. Then I couldn’t really refuse the others. Everybody got their picture. One of the plane owners was letting “civilians” sit in cockpit. It was quite a production. Certainly a lot more involved than my simple instructions for getting in and out of my car.

I didn’t know they had sunroofs

I saw a fellow reading a small plate on the tail of the French jet and making notes in a journal. I asked him what caught his interest. He’s an FAA inspector. He wasn’t working, he’s just a plane geek. He keeps a log book of all the tail numbers he sees. We talked for quite a while. We compared and contrasted inspections of cars (for HPDE events and sanctioned races) to the FAA aircraft inspections.

While we were talking, we wandered towards the F-40 where we met the owner of that plane. The two knew each other, and the FAA inspector had done the inspection for this plane. They wouldn’t be flying the F-40 today. They brought it in last night, but it was not running right so they’re not going anywhere until it’s fixed. I believe the plane is newly restored. He said the engine had less than a hundred hours on it.

The air show, if you want to call it that, consisted of about half the planes going out in twos and threes to do passes over the runways. Each plane did two or three or four passes. Some of the pilots better at showing off their planes than the others – give a side view on pass, show us the top on the next. Some were hotdoggers – taking off in a short distance and putting wheels up within a few feet of the ground.

Not long after my chat with the FAA guy I found myself in conversation with one of the volunteers. We were interrupted by another volunteer who wanted help marshalling a car into place next to the B-25 for a photo. It was the Shelby replica from earlier. It was a good match. Clearly, the Shelby is meant to look like a bomber and not a fighter as I originally surmised.

A nice pair

It immediately occurred to me to ask if I can bring my car over for a picture. It can’t hurt to ask, can it? So I did. “Does your car have nose art on it?” No. “What kind of car?” A Lotus. And I’d like to park it next to either of those green planes there. “If the owner says it’s okay, we’ll get you in here.” Cool!

Unfortunately, festivities were coming to an end. They were clearing the area and moved the crowd back behind the ropes. They fired up the French jet, which had about half the people putting fingers in their ears. It warmed up for quite a while before it taxied off. This may as well have been the ending bell, as the cars quickly packed up and departed.

During the flybys, I ran into Mike. We visited quite a bit for the rest of the day. We were just about the last ones there. We sat by my car while he had a late lunch. He might have been the last to buy a hotdog; they’d already stowed the condiments. Mine was the last car in my whole section; pretty much everybody but the food trucks had gone. The last few spectators came by to take snapshots.

I’d like to do this show again. I’ll ask if I can get a picture of my car next to a plane. It probably won’t work. It was that guy’s nose art on his car that started the process, I was just the afterthought. Even if there were a Spitfire in the show, I can’t think of a good reason my car should get special treatment. But it can’t hurt to ask!

La Junta, July 8

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ryan’s BFW

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