Igloo and Ice Tour

Sunday, March 18

It’s Stomp time again. This year, we had a choice: The Loch on Saturday or Lake Haiyaha on Sunday. I wavered back and forth for a while. I always enjoy a winter trip to Haiyaha but I’m generally up for a change of pace. But events conspired to ensure that I’d be doing Haiyaha again this year.

Ed wanted us to assemble at Bear Lake parking lot at 8:00am. So I set the alarm for 5:30, had the car packed and hit the road shortly after six. Entering Boulder I realized I forgot to bring my scarf. When I got to Lyons I realized I forgot to bring my hiking socks. I generally only manage to forget one item, so I was off my game already, and the sun hadn’t even come up yet.

I pulled into the parking lot on time. The car’s outside thermometer read 19°, but it was quite calm for a change. The weather forecast for Denver said we’d have rain turning to snow in the afternoon, but there’s always a potential for interesting weather along the divide so I wasn’t too concerned.

Ed was already there, with Brooke and Tony. We made our introductions, got kitted up, and hit the trail. It really was a beautiful morning. The sun was shining brightly, the skies were a clear blue, and there was no wind at all. It doesn’t get much better than this.

Brooke, Ed, and Tony

Our first stop was an igloo Ed built for a fundraiser. It was quite a bit closer to the trailhead than he usually builds. The door was quite small; there wasn’t a lot of depth to the snow here. He did the best he could given the conditions. Ed is always a wealth of interesting information. Today one of the topics had to do with some of the details of igloo building at the microscopic level. Specifically: sintering. I was familiar with the term, but not in this context. My brake pads are sintered metal. In igloos, when the snow is compressed, the crystal arms are broken and then the rounded grains fuse into larger crystals.

This is the third or fourth time Ed has guided me to Haiyaha in the winter. Each time, he’s attempted to give me enough information that I could follow the route myself. I’m pretty sure I still can’t get there on my own. I’ve always considered myself pretty good with route finding and paying attention to my surroundings, so I don’t know why I have so much trouble. Oh well.

Haiyaha panorama

I brought the SLR with me this trip and left the GoPro at home. I’d concentrate on trying to get pictures of the always interesting ice at Haiyaha. But the first thing I did was sit down to eat my picnic lunch and by the time I was done, the sunshine was gone as the storm clouds coalesced overhead. Ed said he sometimes has better luck without sunshine . I don’t think it matters much for me. The ice always fascinates me here, but I can never get a photo that is anything like a true representation.

Blue ice slab

Lake Haiyaha has a leak. It lies in a big pile of boulders at the foot of Chaos Canyon. Most lakes in the area are a foot or a foot and a half lower in winter than in summer. Last time I was here, I speculated that for Haiyaha it’s more like six or eight feet. Ed suggested it could be fourteen feet. It may not be that much, but I’d guess that today the top of the ice is at least ten feet below the high water mark on the rocks.

Ice detail

Around the edges, the ice is suspended by the rocks. Walking on it, you can hear that there’s a chamber beneath your feet. There are places where slabs of ice a foot and a half thick are exposed and you can see underneath them. The ice has a light blue color and there are columns of bubbles frozen inside. In other places, the surface of the ice isn’t flat as you’d expect, but looks the lake was frozen in an instant, all the ripples and waves preserved.

Rippled ice

Ed knew of another igloo up on the ridge between Dream Lake and Haiyaha so we headed up to check it out. Before we got off Haiyaha’s ice, we met the two guys who spent last night there. Ed knew them, of course. Ed doesn’t just know every tree and rock in this area of the park, he seems to know all the people, too.

Ridgetop panorama – Haiyaha

This igloo was pretty much right on the top of the ridge, a low arm of Hallett Peak. Below us to the north was Dream Lake. Just a few yards away there was a nice view of Haiyaha to the south. It really is a spectacular place to spend some time. My pictures don’t do it justice.

Ridgetop panorama – Dream Lake (bottom left)

From here we descended to Dream Lake. “Whoa, Ed, where are you taking us? You know I don’t like steep descents!” I had mentioned this to Ed on a previous hike, but he hikes with so many people it’s a bit much for me to expect he’d remember my reluctance. But I felt I was in good hands and didn’t complain too much (I hope!) about being pushed a bit out of my comfort zone. I don’t think I slowed the group down too much and before long we were done with the steep bits. I went down a few places on my keister, only getting a bunch of snow down my backside once.

From there, we followed the summer route back to Nymph so we’d be on the north side of the lake. That’s where the winter shortcut to Bear Lake is. I’d been up that way from Bear once before but never went back this way. It’s a bit shorter, a bit steeper, and a lot less crowded.

We were back to the parking lot by about 1:30. We reckon we covered only about four miles. A light snow started to fall by the time we hit Nymph, and back at the parking lot it was starting to get heavy. But by the time we exited the park the snow was behind us.

All in all, a quite enjoyable hike: an interesting route and good company.

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.

2017 United States Grand Prix

This was Chad’s trip. He did all the heavy lifting, all the logistics. He reached out to me with a question phrased as a hypothetical: if you were to go to the Formula One race, would you go for race day or all three? Where would you sit? Next you know, he’s made lodging accommodations, ordered the tickets, and rented a Cadillac.

Thursday we’d drive Denver to Scott’s place in Liberty Hill, TX. Friday, Saturday, and Sunday at the track, and return Monday. Fifteen hours of driving each way, sandwiched around three long days. Our housing was sixty miles from the track, so another seven and a half hours in the car.

Most of the way there we followed my route from June, altered only for the different end point. We made one navigational error – in Lubbock where I didn’t see the exit for the loop road until too late. We violated both Rule #1 and Rule #2 without remorse, beginning and ending each day’s journey in the dark, and covering about a third of the miles on the Interstate.

When renting the car Chad elected to purchase the damage waiver. He thought it seemed a bit high, at just under a quarter of the week’s rental fee. I told him I never buy it, being covered between my credit card and my own insurance. But then again, I’ve never had any incidents.

It’s still total darkness at 6:30am in late October an hour west of Austin. I’m driving. We are making good time up a two lane state route. The car in front of us is just taillights, a bit ahead of the reach of our headlights. The lights ahead take a bit of a hop. A split second later our lights reach a deer carcass, dead center in our lane, dead. We hit it square, a quick crack/thud combination that lifted the car a bit.

No warning indicators illuminated, the car felt fine, nothing seemed out of whack. We pulled into a gas station in the next town a few miles up the road. The front fascia was broken, smeared with blood in three places, but not missing any pieces. An inspection of the undercarriage revealed a big bone wedged up against the exhaust. The car smelled vaguely of cooked meat for the next couple hours.

I’m guessing Chad was happy to have bought the damage waiver.

Having jumped ahead to nearly the end of the weekend, I’ll dispense with any pretense of chronological order.

We were slow to the track on Friday, but sorted out off-property parking right across the street. Our purpose Friday was to scout the best location for race day. Although the track is only slightly more than a mile longer than Mid-Ohio, it seems a lot bigger when you’re walking around it. We only managed to cover about half the territory, never venturing anywhere near turns nine, ten, and eleven.

We spent the most time on the hill above Turn 7, which has a nice view mostly over the fences, all the way back to Turn 2. There was no overtaking here, but we got to see the cars change direction several times. We could also see glimpses of the cars across the track, through 13 and 14 and then again through 18.

We also spent some time on the grass in front of the grandstands at Turn 1. This grandstand might be the best vantage point on the property. Get high enough, you can see a good chunk of the track, a prime overtaking area directly in front of you, the main straight below and to the left where nice field glasses or a long lens would let you see the action in the pits.

We were there for the Formula One cars, of course, but that’s not all. We also had some historic cars, the Formula Four support race, and people getting rides in the pair of two-seaters. The F1 cars were much quieter than I expected. Off throttle the engines make a noise like the hitting the rumble strips, but louder. Funny, I don’t hear it on TV. The historics sounded fantastic. I think the best sounding cars of the weekend were the two-seaters. High revving and loud, we could hear them from our parking spot.

The support paddock was open to all fans, and we got a nice look at the old cars. The paddocks at all the Champ Car events I’ve attended were much more crowded; this was surprisingly crowd-free. But we didn’t visit it on race day, so that probably made a big difference.

I don’t think they’re releasing attendance figures, and I’m not particularly adept at judging crowd sizes. At our parking lot, I asked one of the attendants how many cars they parked in their lot. He said last year it was 200 on Friday, 400 on Saturday, and 600 on Sunday. He also said there were more cars on Friday this year than there were last year. Last year’s attendance was reported at something like 290,000. So I’m guessing half of them for race day; and perhaps fifty thousand on Friday and a hundred on Saturday.

Slumming with the amateurs

In the minutes before the lights went out for the start, a group of skydivers jumped from planes overhead. At the Broncos games, they bring the game ball to midfield. Here they didn’t even land on the property. One was flying the US flag, another the Texas flag.

Texans are nuts for their flag. It’s flown everywhere. We passed dozens of ranches proudly flying both national and Texas flags. I always understood that the national flag should be flown higher than lesser flags; evidently Texans don’t see their flag as lesser than the US flag as it was without exception flown at the same height. They put it on everything. I’m used to seeing the Colorado or Arizona or California flags primarily as flags. Sure, they’re on the occasional building or t-shirt. But the Texas flag is everywhere. There were several designs of event tees available; more with the Texas flag than the US flag.

Casual

We were subject to some official misinformation. Materials we read indicated we couldn’t bring lenses longer than ten inches, and tripods, selfie-sticks, and monopods were strictly verboten. In actual fact, giant lenses and monopods were commonplace. Scott kindly lent me a monopod and one of his long telephotos.

I struggled with my reflex lens. I hand-held on Friday. Very difficult. Focusing was a challenge. With the monopod the second day things were easier, as I could simulate a tripod by bracing the monopod against the lawn chair. Scott’s telephoto was much easier; auto-focus and image stabilizer. And much faster. I tried to shoot all the cars the first two days and relax on race day. I shot about 800 pictures, none of which are stellar. We confirmed in June I’m no Lewis Hamilton, and this weekend that I’m no Bernard Cahier.

As you’d expect, prices for food, drink, and merchandise were high. I had a giant sausage one day, piled high with onions for $14, a six cheese mac with bacon for $12, and a trio of sliders for $17.25. Yikes! Beers were nine bucks and up. The lowest priced t-shirt I saw was thirty bucks. Hats for fifty. Polo shirts eighty five.

Water was widely available. They had a number of giant dispensers around the facility. I watched them pour two hundred pounds of ice into one that wasn’t at a water source. I carried my empty container in and refilled it as necessary.

All in all, I enjoyed myself. I look forward to going to another one, but I probably won’t return to Austin for F1 in the next few years. Maybe I need to think about Montreal…

 

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.