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.

Yet Another HPR Video

Sunday, April 29

It’s time for the spring running of Emich’s track day at HPR. I signed up for the afternoon sessions only. It’s a good bargain – four half hour runs for $85. It’s always a crowded day because I’m not the only bargain hunter. This year it sold out. But I figure many of the folks who sign up for the entire day leave early so the last couple sessions will feature a lot less traffic.

Today it seemed like the mix of cars was a bit more upscale than in the past – the vast majority of the cars were new Mustangs, Porsches, Corvettes, and Camaros and not so many older cars. In fact, I don’t think there were more than a handful of cars older than mine.

Scott and I drove out together and got there just in time for the drivers meeting. When we pulled in, I figured we’d park close to the pavilion so we wouldn’t be late for sign-in and the meeting but as we went by the carports Ryan flagged me down. There were two slots that morning entrants had paid for, so we snagged them.

The runners

So the Lotus contingent for the day was Ryan, Scott, and me. Unfortunately, Ryan again had injector issues. Not the same injector as last week, but evidently the same root cause. He thinks he has the solution and expects to be ready to go for next time. I hope he’s correct.

Ryan already in the trailer

Not much else to report.

I checked the settings on the lap timer and found where to connect it to the OBD II dongle, so I collected a limited amount of engine data. And I finally bought the unlimited version of Race Render 3 for making my videos.

I’m quite happy with it so far. It greatly simplifies the process. Before, I had to use my video editing software to do the picture in picture. It takes it about two and a half hours to complete that process. One thing that bugged me about it was that the rear-view camera isn’t a mirror image. That is, when I get passed by a car on driver’s right, the car goes to camera left. I couldn’t find any option that let me flip the image.

Race Render 3 does the horizontal flip of the rear view camera automatically. And it does the rendering in a few minutes. It also makes it fairly easy to sync everything up. I advance the main video to the first time I cross the start/finish line, adjust the rear camera to the same point (it will be off by several seconds – the time between starting the cameras). Then, for the data, tell it to find the start of lap 1. Bingo – all synced up.

The lap timer handles the GPS, so that’s the source of position and speed. The OBD supplies RPM and throttle position. I can also get coolant temperature and intake temperature. I may play around with this data next time. Throttle position percent comes through in the range of 14.9 at the low end and 77.6 at the high end, rather than 0 and 100. I edit the gauge display to adjust for that and it comes out okay. The ODB also records speed, so I may play with using that rather than the phone data. I haven’t checked yet if they match.

I’m open to suggestions for the display, so feel free to leave comments.

Pueblo Motorsports Park

Saturday, April 21

The first CECA event of the year is at Pueblo Motorsports Park. I’ve only been there twice, and I think the last time was back in 2012. So it’s long past due for a visit. The day after I popped my check in the mail I received an email saying that the event would be cancelled if they didn’t receive eight more entries. Turns out they got twenty.

The hitch in the plan is variable spring weather along the Front Range. A week ago, the forecast was for a high in the upper fifties with snow and rain in the morning. Well, I figured, if it was going to get near sixty, any snow would melt as soon as it hit the ground. And although I’ve never run laps in proper rain, I’m up for it. Wet conditions would mean my street tires might be an advantage rather than a detriment.

CECA fees are a bit higher than a typical open lapping day, but there is one big advantage: entries are by the car rather than the driver. That means we can have Michael drive a session or two at no additional cost. So I put his name on the entry form as second driver and told him to plan on spending the entire day with me.

The fly in that ointment is that he went to a concert last night and didn’t get home until 2:30. It’s a two hour drive to the track, and we needed to be there before the start of the 8:00 drivers meeting, so I told him we’d leave no later than 5:30. He said he’d set his alarm for 4:45 and be ready to go. There were no signs of life downstairs so I woke him up with a question: “Are you coming with me?”

I had the car all packed up last night, so even with him getting a few extra minutes of sleep we were on the road by our desired time. At 5:30 we backed out of the garage and into a snow storm. I don’t normally drive the car in the rain, unless it’s unavoidable. Snow is out of the question. I’m not running track tires, but they’re summer tires and not made for snow. But we’ve had warm weather for a while, and the snow will melt as soon as it hits the ground, right? Right? That’s what I kept telling myself.

The Elise is neither quiet nor comfortable, but as Michael had only a couple of hours of sleep he was unconscious almost immediately. It was probably just as well. It was a bit of a white-knuckle drive much of the way. I’m not a big fan of driving the Elise in the dark, as it sits so low. Add the snow (even if it was melting right away) and visibility was bad – very difficult to see the lane markings, and the spray from other cars didn’t help. Add to that, there was a fair amount of standing water on the road; I hydroplaned occasionally.

Visibility improved once I got out of the city, and traffic thinned out a bit. At speed, the snow doesn’t really hit the windshield, so the snow didn’t look to be too heavy. Until I passed the occasional street lamp, when it looked far too much like blizzard conditions for my taste. The test of the weather would be at Monument Hill, which is notorious for bad weather. On the approach, it looked like the snow was starting to stick to the shoulders of the road. Because the snow flew over the car, I didn’t often need to use the windshield wipers. By now a line of slushy snow had accumulated underneath the wiper.

The weather seemed to be clearing as we went farther south. Just as snow had been stacking up under the wiper, it has been accreting on the nose of the car. Near Fountain, a big slab of it came loose and splattered on the windshield. But the worst of it was over, and the snow had turned to light rain. Even so, I couldn’t help but wonder if the conditions had caused enough people to bail out that we would cancel.

When we arrived at the track it looked like a fairly sparse crowd, but at least we weren’t the only ones who braved the conditions. We gathered in the “VIP” room. I use the term loosely. It’s air-conditioned, which I’m sure is welcome in summer. But there’s no heat. At least it was dry, and out of the wind.

When we first pulled into the facility, I saw an orange car on a trailer. From a distance, it might have been Ryan’s Exige, but he doesn’t trailer his car. Turns out it was a Viper, not a Lotus. In fact, it was a Viper TA, which doesn’t stand for “Trans Am” but for “Time Attack”. It’s an 8.4 liter V10 that pumps out 640bhp. I understand they were available in two colors: orange or black.

Viper TA

And it turns out Ryan recently bought a trailer, so he now trailers his car. We parked side-by-side and rather than lay out our things on a tarp on the wet ground, we stashed our stuff in his trailer.

He mentioned that he recently had a problem with one of his fuel injectors and hoped he had it fixed. This proved to be a bit of foreshadowing.

After our tech inspection, we went back to the VIP room for the drivers meeting. We still had some waiting to do, so spent the time visiting. I took a look at the entry list and saw 28 cars listed. Turns out it was somewhat less, as some people didn’t brave the weather after all.

1969 Shelby GT 350

As this was Michael’s first time, he had to take the ground school session for the novices. The red group was out first, which included me. While we were waiting for the drivers meeting to start, we watched them trying to dry the track, or at least the drag strip portion of it. They had the brushes out, and a blower. It had stopped raining, but our first red session would be under yellow flags because of the wet. For that first session, I didn’t bother setting up the cameras.

Michael’s first session was a “lead-follow” session. The idea is, all the novices line up behind the instructor car. After the first lap, the car immediately behind the instructor lets all the other cars pass then gets back in at the end of the queue. The process is repeated each lap until everybody has had a chance to follow right behind the instructor.

The Lotus contingent

Because I was in the red group, Michael didn’t get to line up with the other green group cars on the grid. So he would be released after everybody did their first lap and he’d be at the end of the line. Unfortunately, three cars in the group were unable to keep up to the line, and because we enter the track down the pit lane, by the time we got on the track even this last group of three cars was well ahead of us. So I had to put my instructor hat on and try to tell him the line.

Eventually we caught the pack. But for some reason, a few of these drivers seemed unable or unwilling to follow the rules. Instead of just the lead novice letting the others pass, two or three cars did this each time. As a result, we made our way up to the instructor pretty quickly. After our one lap, we tried to go to the back, but a couple cars stayed behind us and after three more laps we were back to the front. That was good for Michael, as he got a couple of nice looks at where to put the car.

The weather seemed to be improving a bit, so for my next red session I took the top off the car and mounted the cameras in their usual places. The track was nice and dry now, and we could finally give it a proper go. In my previous visits to PMP, my personal best lap time was 2:01. By my fourth lap of this session I’d matched that and before the session ended, I’d broken the two minute barrier three times, logging a 1:57.67. I was happy with that, particularly given that I had a passenger.

About half way through the session, though, we saw Ryan parked on the side of the track. When we got back to the paddock we learned that he’d had a recurrence of his fuel injector problem. Sadly, his day was done.

It was now lunch time, so we returned to the VIP room. Michael and I got burgers and fries. Sitting there eating, I couldn’t help but notice that the rain had started up again. It wasn’t particularly heavy, but I’d left the top off the car. I was more interested in having a hot lunch than running out in the rain to put the top on the car. Luckily it didn’t rain hard or long, so neither the car interior nor the track got very wet.

Michael was pretty cold. Neither of us was properly dressed. We were expecting temperatures in the high fifties, but I don’t think it managed much more than fifty, and with the breeze it was fairly chilly. I couldn’t wear my sweater under my driving suit, so I wore my jacket over it. I was happy to put the top back on the car, and even ran the heater. So for the next red session, I went out solo while Michael tried to keep warm in the VIP room.

That third session was much fun. I managed seven laps in a row under two minutes. There was very little traffic by now, many people having given up. I only caught up to two cars, and those on the first two laps. If there were any faster cars on the track, we were separated by quite a bit as nobody passed me the whole time. In the end, I logged a new personal best lap of 1:54.56.

By now I was getting low on fuel. Because the paddock is inside the track, nobody can leave while a session is in progress. So, rather than pack up our stuff and wait in line to exit, we decided we’d run two or three more laps to pass the time. I called it a day at the end of three laps when I had a big moment. I didn’t spin it, but got quite a bit sideways.

Once we were packed up, the track was closed for a break and we were able to exit without having to wait.

Michael did a great job behind the wheel. There’s a lot to take in the first time you’re on the track. It’s easy to get focused on the road in front of you but you need to be check out the corner stations and have to be aware of your mirrors. He did watch his mirrors very well, but I’m not sure he was looking for the corner workers. That’s easy for me to do as passenger, so I wasn’t terribly concerned. If I thought he’d have missed something, I’d have let him know. I had the lap timer running, but not where he could see it. It’s natural to want to know how you’re doing, but I didn’t want another distraction for him.

Due to the blustery conditions, I ran all but one session with the top on. So the video is from the harness bar mount rather than my preferred location on top of the car. And I still haven’t figured out what I’m doing wrong with the lap timer – I seem to be disconnected from the OBD dongle, so no data. Hopefully I’ll get that issue wrestled to the ground soon.

Willy T. Ribbs

The Morgan Adams Foundation in association with Rocky Mountain Vintage Racers and Ferrari of Denver arranged a meet and greet with Willy T. Ribbs today. I was thinking it was a sort of Cars & Coffee event, but the parking lot at FoD is on the small side. And the weather was a bit on the chilly, so most everybody just milled around the showroom and socialized.

I remember Ribbs best from his days as an IndyCar/Champcar driver. He was racing in the very first race I ever attended, the original course on the streets of downtown Denver (not the later one, around the Pepsi Center). He remembers those races fondly, says that that Denver course was one of his favorite street courses, up there with Long Beach.

Before his time in IndyCar, he won a championship in Formula Ford in Europe. He also ran in the Trans-Am series where he was quite successful, winning 17 races. Near the end of his career he did a few seasons in NASCAR. What I did not know was that he was the first black man to drive in Formula 1. He had a test with the Brabham team under Bernie Ecclestone.

After people had a chance to grab some coffee and a bagel or doughnut, the folks from Morgan Adams Foundation introduced Willy to the crowd. He spoke for a while, spinning some yarns and telling us about a movie that Adam Carolla is making about him. The film will be released in May. He talked about how they decided on a title for the film. He asked Carolla if he’d decided on a title. He hadn’t, and asked Ribbs if he had a suggestion. Ribbs told him he thought it ought to be called “Uppity”. A number of people thought that wasn’t a great name, but after some back and forth that’s what they decided on.

Ribbs talked a bit about his relationship with Ecclestone and told a couple of stories. Ribbs once introduced boxing promoter Don King to Ecclestone. On the way into the building Ribbs and King passed an ice cream parlor. “I want an ice cream” King said to Ribbs. “I always have an ice cream when I’m negotiating!” Bernie’s first question of King was “How much do you make in boxing?” After King answered “About fifty million”, Bernie said maybe he should switch from F1 to boxing. I think Bernie did alright in the end.

He had another story about Jesse Jackson wanting to boycott the F1 race in South Africa during the 80’s. Bernie asked Ribbs if he knew Jackson and Ribbs said yes. “Enough to call him?” So Ribbs called Jackson. Jackson didn’t know who Bernie was, but Ribbs convinced him to talk to Bernie. In the end, there was no boycott.

I chatted with him after his talk. I particularly wanted to know how long it took him to learn a track on his first visit, and how long it took to get comfortable with a new race car. The first time he visited a track, he’d spend a half day or so either riding a motorcycle around or taking out his rental car. Then he’d meet with the engineers. They’d have things pretty well laid out for him: “This is a 3rd gear turn, you’ll be at about such-and-such RPM” and so on. By the time he’d finished a couple of practice sessions he’d have it dialed in pretty well.

As to driving a new race car for the first time, he was less specific. “It either works well, or it doesn’t work.” I’m guessing that if the car works well, he was up to speed in it pretty quickly.

Ribbs compared being a race driver today to when he was driving. He’s happy to have done his driving before there was social media. A driver today can’t get away with all the fun the drivers had back then. Let’s just say they partied like rock stars. This led to the story about how they filled up a Holiday Inn swimming pool with rental cars. The pools didn’t have fences around them then. They drove one car into the pool, got out, drove another one in right on top of the first one. “Stacked them like pancakes!”

Before I left, I got a selfie with him. I’m clearly the world’s worst at selfies.

Lafayette Cars & Coffee

Saturday, February 3

It’s the first Saturday of the month, so it’s time to head up to Lafayette for Cars & Coffee. I usually try to attend three or four of these each year. This is already the second time I’ve made it this year. We’re now at a different location than before. It’s a much bigger parking lot, we have a bit of a police presence, and a few vendors show up to sell breakfast burritos and car detailing supplies. To be clear, that’s two different vendors; not breakfast burritos that you can use to clean your car.

Quite a few of the cars that show up are regulars. We may not see dozens of Lamborghinis or McLarens, but we do get to see the same few Lamborghinis and McLarens dozens of time. As well, some car clubs show up in force. So if you’re interested in recent or current Subarus, Mustangs, Camaros, or Challengers there are plenty to choose from.

I think today’s Lotus turnout was limited to three Elises and three Esprits.

Here are a few photos of cars that caught my eye. I don’t think I’ve included any repeats from earlier posts. I did include three from last month. (All photos taken with the cell phone.)

1978 Dodge Aspen Super Bee

Motorcycle with sidecar. Note the machine gun!

1931 Chevy

1920 Ford Model T

1968 Buick Riviera GS

These three pictures are from last month.

VW Bus

 

1955 (I think) Ford Sunliner

Pantera GT5-S

 

Winter Maintenance, part deux

Thursday, December 28

Today we made another stab at getting the Lotus back in shape. Our task list looks something like this:

  • Lotus
    • Front discs
    • Front pads
    • Flush brakes (maybe)
    • Drive belt
    • Change oil
    • Clean air filter
    • Mount the 2bular exhaust

In addition, we also have these to do as well:

  • Chrysler
    • Front pads
    • Flush brakes
    • Install windshield wipers
    • Rotate tires
  • Hyundai
    • Rotate tires

Again, we managed to get a fairly late start. Michael is on vacation, after all. We decided to delay the brake flush on the Lotus given that it was done in June. We can do it in April, before I have any more track days and remain on a more or less annual schedule. We also rearranged the priorities a bit, with the Chrysler’s brakes at the top of the list with the Elise drive belt second.

The Chrysler has been treated like the red-headed step child. I’ve only driven it about two thousand miles this year. I’ve been bad about keeping up the maintenance. I should be given a stern talking to about the state of the poor car. The front pads were beyond done and the front tires are worn to the cords. We did rotate them, so the bad ones are now on the back. She’s not going anywhere until I get her new tires.

The pads were an easy fix, but the bleeding took a while. We did it the old-fashioned way.

Next up was the serpentine belt for the Elise. We watched a video on YouTube earlier. It turns out the whole repair takes about as long as the video, assuming you have the part. We did not. The video we watched suggested taking the old belt to the parts store to get the proper size. Last weekend I went to the Toyota dealer. They said they show three different sizes. They only had one in stock, at about seventy bucks. They suggested I go to O’Reilly’s.

So we got the belt off and headed to Advance. The guy there was not very helpful. His computer didn’t list any options when looking under Lotus. We only found one option when searching the Celica and that belt was too long. He suggested the dealer.

So we headed to O’Reilly’s. The coin dropped for me on the way from one store to another. We needed to look at the options for the Celica for every year until we found a match. The O’Reilly’s guy started the search that way, but failed. Then he took the old belt into the back and came back a few minutes later with a match. Seems like the Advance guy should have been able to do that.

Oh, and it’s a good thing the dealer didn’t have any in stock. Instead of paying more than $70 for the belt, it was $16.24, including tax.

Michael had the new belt on in a jiffy. I figured we had enough sunlight left to change the oil but not enough for the exhaust. We finished as the sun set behind the mountains. As it wasn’t dark yet, we knocked off the Chrysler’s windshield wipers. So, not as much progress as hoped.

Friday, December 29

After yet another discussion of the tasks we want to accomplish, I agreed that I could clean the air filter without Michael’s help. It’s a pain in the keister, as you can’t really get to it from the top and you need to go in through the left rear wheel well. And the tire rotation for the Hyundai will have to wait that car isn’t on premise, being Genae drove it to work.

First thing to do for the exhaust swap is to remove the diffuser. You may recall that, during the Incident at Woody Creek, when we were towing the car off the track, we hit the only pothole in the place and the car came off the casters. The casters rotated up and back, clobbering the diffuser, denting the rear panel, and doing a bit of damage to the fiberglass.

While Michael started dismounting the exhaust I went to work on the diffuser to see what I could do for it. Apologies for the poor photo. This gets mounted with the right of the photo to the front of the car. I neglected to take an “after” picture, but as you can imagine there wasn’t much improvement. I’ve been thinking about getting a bigger diffuser for some time. This looks like my justification, but it will have to wait until after the Chrysler’s tires.

I also fiddled around trying to straighten out the damage on the rear panel. It wasn’t nearly as bad and I’ve done a passable repair to it.

This is now the fourth time we’ve swapped out the exhaust and we’re getting more practiced at it. I think it took us something like three hours the first time and now we’ve gotten it down to about an hour and a quarter.

All finished and the car put back together, we took her out for a spin to see what she sounded like. It’s been months so it’s not like I can make an accurate comparison between the fiberglass and the steel wool. But I think it’s quieter now. It’s almost as quiet as the stock exhaust, except that it burbles and pops nicely when coming off the throttle.

In the end, we didn’t get everything done that I wanted to get done. But I’m happy nonetheless.

A Glance Back

It was a tough year for the Elise. She spent 100 days in the shop for a camshaft replacement that went awry, resulting in a rebuilt head. The battery died and I didn’t know it was installed incorrectly, resulting it the battery bouncing around inside the boot at the track. I had the aforementioned right rear suspension failure, which was the same failure we had on the left rear back in 2011. The one good thing that happened was the left rear turn signal magically fixed itself.

This year I drove the car the fewest miles of any year since 2011. I’ve had the car nearly eight years. This year’s repair/maintenance bill amounts to almost a third of total maintenance spending since I’ve owned it. The high maintenance bill results in a total cost of a bit over a dollar and a half for every mile I’ve driven it. (For the record, that’s fuel, service, insurance, and taxes/license.) Looking at the bright side, I didn’t spend as much on it in 2017 as I did in any year I was still making payments on it.

HPR Customer Appreciation Day 2017

Wednesday, December 27

The forecast for Denver was a high of 45. That would probably be at two in the afternoon. When I got up, the back yard thermometer read 13 degrees. The track opens at 10:00, drivers meeting at 10:40, hot track from 11:00 to 4:00. So I had a leisurely breakfast and hit the road at 9:15. It was still well below freezing. Once I got out of the neighborhood the roads were mostly dry.

I gassed up in Byers and was at the track by 10:30. Not a very big turnout, and I was able to snag a prime spot. In the meeting I asked about the driver count. About forty had registered, but only 28 had signed in so far. We’d start the day in slow and fast groups, with slow out first. After that, with the small car count, we’d probably have an open track.

Usually, track days are warm and I’m wearing shorts. I just put the driving suit on over my t-shirt and shorts. But it doesn’t fit over jeans. It’s cold, the asphalt is wet, there’s snow on just about everything that’s not asphalt. And I need to take my jeans off to put the driving suit on. And the rest rooms are close for the season. First world problems.

I wasn’t pressed for time for a change, as the slow group was out first. I managed to get the cameras mounted and operating, the lap timer working without drama. For some reason, I’m stubbornly sticking to my favorite camera mount, which means I need to run topless. The driving suit doesn’t fit over my sweater any better than over jeans, so I ended up running the first session with my jacket over the suit. It was a bit chilly.

David Green and I parked next to each other in the paddock. After each session, Dave would complain he was too hot in the car. I suggested he could cure that by taking his top off. He declined.

Today was the first day anybody has gotten to run on the new asphalt. They repaved big sections of the track. When the track was first built, there was some difficulty getting the compound of asphalt they wanted. In October, they milled almost all the turns and all the crossovers for the various track configurations. They also mudjacked the curbs to account for the thicker asphalt.

The new asphalt is polymerized. The addition of the polymer helps the asphalt resist the high shear forces present in racing that normal streets and highways don’t experience. As a result of this new pavement, it is expected that we’ll see reduced tire wear, better traction, and quicker lap times.

We wouldn’t see any personal bests today, though. The slow group was out while we were getting ready. The usual sound is heavy on motors but today was more about squealing tires. Pretty much everyone’s tires would be singing as much as mine always do.

Today’s unusual car: 1978 Ford Fairmont

A track that hasn’t been run on is called “green”. I will likely never drive on a track as green as this. There was absolutely no rubber down. As the day went on, I could begin to see the racing line start to appear, subtly. It seemed pretty slippery. I don’t know how much of that was the cold and how much was the new asphalt. I went four off once and several times badly missed apexes due to braking problems (the brakes worked fine – the tires struggled). By the end of the day, there were a few skid marks that were definitely mine.

I ran three sessions, thirty four timed laps plus three out laps. Dave ran two sessions and said he was out of gas. I bragged that I could run four sessions without running out. It’s a good thing I didn’t try to run any more than I did. When I got to the gas station in Byers on the way home, the gas gauge read empty. The gas tank holds ten gallons. I pumped 9.8 gallons.

I think the repaving job was a success. There is only one rough spot, a large patch on drivers left as you’re exiting the track. Other than that, it’s billiard table smooth. Only time will tell if it’s actually faster now, but I certainly appreciate having access to one of the best maintained tracks in the country.

Winter Maintenance

Every year High Plains Raceway has a free track day. Anybody who has been an open lapping customer during the calendar year is eligible, as is any member in good standing of the clubs who own the track. It is held between Christmas and New Years, unless weather causes a delay.

But I need to get the car sorted before I can take it out. I have a long list of tasks for Michael to help me do to do for me. I was hoping they’d do the track day on Friday, as that looks to have the best weather. But it got scheduled for Wednesday. So Michael and I had a lot of work to do on Tuesday:

  • Front discs
  • Front pads
  • Flush brakes (maybe)
  • Drive belt
  • Change oil
  • Clean air filter
  • Mount the 2bular exhaust

The rear pads were replaced in June, and I’ll have to replace the rear discs next time I replace the pads. Brake fluid was new in June and has roughly three track days and only a few thousand miles on it.

Tuesday, December 26

Tuesday turned out to be quite cold. I turned the garage furnace on after breakfast and hoped to get it up to 50. The thermometer in the garage read 25. I almost never see it reading below 32. Michael slept in and we spent too much time talking about what we were going to do instead of doing it. And, of course, we had to make a trip to the auto parts store, and we grabbed lunch. (The Chrysler reported the outside temp at 8 degrees.)

In the end, all we got done was the brake hardware.

I’m software, not hardware, so please forgive my ignorance as I point out the obvious.

I’ve never given the discs much thought before, I’ve never had one in my hand. When I unboxed them it was obvious because of the slots that there’d be left and right. I didn’t look for any other asymmetries. I didn’t give much thought to the slots until I held the new discs up against the old ones still mounted on the car.

First, the vents in the new discs are different than the vents in the old ones. The vents on the old discs are asymmetrical. The new ones are not. The old ones vent the same direction with respect to the car’s travel. The new ones, one will be going forward, the other back. The left side vent matches the old one, the right side doesn’t. Sadly, my photo doesn’t illustrate very well.

Second, the slots are in the opposite orientation to the holes in the drilled discs.

I’m guessing that the difference in the vents is due to the drilling. With the slots, it doesn’t matter where the vents are. But for the holes, the location of the vents matters.

Confirmation that the pads were due to be replaced. All four pads were similarly worn, except the inside pad on the left, where the wear is uneven and bottom half of the groove is gone.

It snowed much of the day, so I was anticipating a possible change to the schedule. If they change it to next week, I’ll have to skip it. Genae kept checking the weather radar and it showed no snow. But clearly it was snowing. The TV weather wonk said it was “fog snow”. Never heard of it before.

The snow and cold contributed to our lack of progress. It will be easier to do the exhaust in the driveway with the ramp. And it’s best to get the oil warm before changing it. If we open the garage door we lose all our warm air. Even the quick spin around the block to check the brakes was interesting. Our cul-de-sac is frozen packed snow. Plows have been by the other streets around the school, but there were still big patches of slush.

 

USGP, More Photos

I shot something like 800 pictures over the three days. Good thing the film is free.

I didn’t take a monopod because I read that they were prohibited. I also read that lenses longer than 10″ weren’t allowed. Neither was the case. I took my usual 15-85 zoom, which isn’t nearly long enough to properly shoot the cars on track. And I was so enamored with taking the 500mm lens rather than thinking it through. That lens is really good at being small and lightweight. But it’s slow, and the required adapter doesn’t help the optical qualities. I’d have been better served by taking the 70-200.

Of the 800 pictures, I only took 86 on race day.

In short, I failed to follow the 6P Principle.

This panorama was taken on the grass in front of the Turn 1 grandstands. The black rectangular object is not a video screen but a loudspeaker. It’s like a ribbon speaker.

An old Formula One car running in the Masters Historic Racing series. I didn’t get a program, and I haven’t found an entry list online, so I don’t know anything about the car or driver.

The pro photographers had a window in the fence directly below us. They’re right on the access road, and a van dedicated to moving these guys circulated the track on that road all day. These two had to coordinate what they were doing – it wouldn’t do to have one of them using the telephoto while the other is doing pans.

Another oldie.

This was the only guy I ever noticed shooting the wrong way. Nikon guy, no doubt.

More oldies.

This one came out better than I expected. Compare it to this one.

This was where we watched the race. This pano was taken Saturday. On Sunday there were more maybe three times as many people here.