RMVR/RAKC

Saturday, July 29

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

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

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

Photo courtesy Mike Rogers, Driven Imagery

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I had a really good time.

Small Claims Court

I was hoping that this entry would be the end of the story of the Ordeal of the Camshaft. We had our day in court but we don’t have the end of the story yet. It’s a cliffhanger!

Monday, July 24

This is Victor’s case, I’m just a witness. I’ve been called up for jury duty a few times, but never had to serve. So outside of traffic court I’ve had no dealings with the justice system.

We arrived in Judge Ecton’s courtroom at about 8:00am. A docket is posted on the wall just outside the doors. We were second on the list. After we seated ourselves in the gallery, the court clerk came by and did a little roll call.

Shortly after that the judge entered the courtroom. “Everybody rise!” He took his seat at the bench and gave a little introductory speech. This is not an episode of Judge Judy, or whatever court show you watch on TV. We follow some rules of evidence. There are no surprises here. If you want to introduce an exhibit into evidence, your opponent has to know about it and will have an opportunity to object.

Each side can make a one minute opening statement. Each side may call as many as three witnesses, and each witness is given ten minutes. Then there’s an opportunity for the other side to cross-examine. Then the first side can ask any additional questions that may arise from the cross-examination. The judge controls the stopwatch.

Those are the basic rules, but before we could get to any of that, each case was sent to mediation. This mediation took place in another room, with just the principal parties. As a witness I was not a party in the mediation. The judge instructed that there would be a minimum of fifteen minutes of mediation. If mediation failed to produce an outcome, both parties would return to the courtroom ready to follow the process above.

While Victor and the defendant were in mediation, and after a short pause, the first case was handled. In this case the defendant didn’t show so the plaintiff won automatically. The plaintiff was awarded his claim of $1500.

Then the first case came back from mediation. This was between a Mr. Benson and a Mrs. Benson. Mediation produced a result, and Mrs. Benson would pay Mr. Benson $1300. Because everything was handled outside the room, we in the gallery were left in the dark as to exactly what this was all about. The imagination runs wild: are they man and wife? Brother and sister?

I didn’t check the time, but it was more than half an hour before the mediator for our case returned to the courtroom, Victor and the Ehrlich Toyota people in tow. Mediation failed to provide an agreement, so we would come to trial. But one key point was not disputed: Ehrlich did not contest that the parts they supplied were defective.

So now the fun begins. I admit that I’m not a court reporter, not a stenographer, don’t take shorthand, and didn’t even have a pen and paper to take notes with. I was able to key a few short notes into my phone, but that was the extent of it, and I can’t type worth a damn on my phone. So it’s very likely that my record here contains some minor errors or omissions. I do feel that I’ve recorded the major points fairly and completely.

The woman in charge on their side was the one Victor had been dealing with over the several months this has gone on. I don’t know her position in the company, and managed not to record her name (surprise, surprise) but she’s not one of the owners. She was supported by one of their technical people and at the last minute was joined by one of the Ehrlich family. Between mediation and the start of the trail, Victor wondered aloud why he was dealing with her and not one of the owners. He went out into the hall for a couple of minutes to try to talk to him but returned unsatisfied.

We began with the short opening statements, Victor going first. Nothing particularly interesting was said by either party, with the exception of Victor being mildly chided by the judge. Victor had interrupted the judge. This is a no-no. When it happened I didn’t even notice it, probably because I have a tendency to do the same thing. Almost immediately after that, the judge cautioned Victor for making “inflammatory” remarks. These remarks had to do with our feeling that Ehrlich’s warranty policy was just a policy and didn’t carry the weight of law. It doesn’t absolve them of responsibility for the damage the defective part caused. After this mild dressing down, there were no more cautions from the judge, although I think Victor may have gotten close when he made the same point later in the proceedings.

Victor was the first witness. As he’s also the plaintiff, it obviously wasn’t the usual question-and-answer process one sees on TV. Most of our exhibits were documents, but we did have the damaged head and sprocket. He set the head right on the witness stand, although he never had to point out the damage that was caused by the bad cam. He spent a few minutes going over the events that led us here. He did a pretty good job, even though he seemed to me to be a bit nervous. He was then cross-examined by the defendant.

One of the key parts of Victor’s testimony relates to why Victor is the one with the claim instead of me. Essentially, I assigned the portion of the bill relating to rebuilding the head to Victor. He felt it was wrong to stick me with this bill and that he would make the claim rather than force me to do it. I think the Ehrlich people thought explaining this thought process was a weakness, and they brought it up later in a derogatory way later on.

Victor called me as the second witness. “Raise your right hand. Do you promise to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?” I do. No bibles were involved, and no swearing to god. “State your name, and spell your last name.” I took my seat at the witness stand.

Victor started with High Mountain Classic’s reputation. What was said about their work? After this experience, did my opinion of their reputation change? A few other questions of that nature. Then Victor had me read a few paragraphs from my blog, a printout of which had been entered into evidence as one of the exhibits. The judge said it wasn’t necessary for me to read any of it, as he’d be able to read it himself, but Victor had me read a key passage anyway.

Next up was cross-examination. Why did I go to High Mountain Classics rather than a Toyota dealer? What was the nature of the work I had them perform? Did I consider using parts other than from Toyota? Is my car a daily driver? Do I take it to the race track, do I race the car? I said that I never considered taking the car to a Toyota dealer. I’ve not known any Lotus owners to do this. I explained my thought process, that I considered going to Ferrari of Denver or to my usual shop (Peak Eurosport) but chose Victor after discussing the issue with him after a club meeting.

When it came to the specific work, the judge interjected some questions. I explained that there were issues with the hardening failing on the cams and that it was recommended that they are periodically inspected for abnormal wear. HMC performed the inspection and found wear was starting and recommended replacement of the parts. I made clear to the judge that the wear problem was totally unrelated to the defect in the parts where the burrs were sent through the motor, damaging the head.

I was a bit surprised by some of these questions. Why was it important to know if I considered other sources for the parts? I told how I came to the decision to use Toyota parts: I looked into the Stage 2 MonkeyWrench racing cam, but dismissed this because it would involve a lot of additional work. I felt that the known, good, Toyota part was the best way to go, and that Toyota reliability was a large factor in purchasing the car in the first place.

I also didn’t understand why they wanted to know if I raced the car. I said that I don’t have a daily commute, that I put an average of eight thousand miles a year on the car and that track days account for a small fraction of the miles. I told the judge that an HPDE day is not competition. In any case, it seems irrelevant to me. This is about the defective part wrecking my engine. I don’t know why they felt it was an important issue.

Van was the technician at HMC that did the work on my car. He was the third witness. Before the trial started we sat together in the back of the gallery and chatted. When I asked him how he got into auto restoration he quickly gave me his entire CV. It starts with him earning a BS in Auto Restoration. I didn’t know such a degree was available. He told me there’s just the one school that offers it. After graduation he’s worked in a number of jobs that sounded quite interesting, including a stint at Tesla.

So, of course, the first thing the defendant did was attack his credibility. Are you a certified Toyota mechanic? Have you ever worked on this particular engine before? Why didn’t you notice that the part was defective before installing it? Why didn’t you do the rebuild of the head? Van is, of course, an ASE certified mechanic. He routinely works on engines he’s never seen before. He says he followed Toyota’s procedure for replacing the part, and that procedure didn’t include anything about checking for burrs in the camshaft internals. Ryan was brought in because HMC was falling behind on the other projects.

Next there was a line of questioning about labor rates. HMC doesn’t use the flat rates. They bill for actual hours, not book hours. I suppose that was to call into question the amount of the bill. But this is misdirection as well, because the hours worked on the rebuild were not Van’s, they were Ryan’s, the certified Lotus mechanic.

Again, I’m somewhat puzzled by many of these questions. There is no dispute that the parts they supplied were defective. They seem to be trying to say that it wasn’t the defective parts that caused the problems, but an inexperienced or incompetent mechanic. (Van, is, of course, neither.)

Ehrlich’s only witness was the woman Victor has been dealing with through this whole process. She emphasized that all the receipts have a disclaimer on them, saying that their warranty does not include implied merchantability and does not cover any labor. During my testimony, the part of my blog that Victor had me read included the bit about all the cams in their stock were also bad. The judge asked if this was true. She said she didn’t know.

In Ehrlich’s closing remark, they proudly stated that had all this happened in their shop, they’d never think of sticking the customer with the bill. This, clearly, was in response to Victor presenting the bill to me with the full amount, which then had the rebuild backed out. I paraphrase, but they essentially said, “We would never leave the customer holding the bag.” And, yet, that’s exactly what they’re trying to do here. HMC is the customer. HMC bought defective parts that caused me extensive property damage, and they’re adamant that they’re not responsible. The didn’t seem to see the irony.

One of the final questions that came up was why Victor is going after Ehrlich rather than Toyota USA or Toyota Japan. Here’s the one place where I thought Victor’s response was weak, but I couldn’t help him out. He said that he was afraid it would cost too much to pursue a giant Japanese corporation, didn’t want to go out of state or out of the country. Ehrlich said that Toyota USA has people here in Denver, so none of Victor’s fears are valid. My answer would have been that we hadn’t had any dealings with Toyota USA or Toyota Japan: we’ve been dealing all along with Ehrlich.

This question, in fact, is the only part of this whole suit that bothers me. Before we started down this path, my research indicated that if we were to go after the wrong party, we could win the case but still never get compensated. If there’s something in the law that we don’t know about (and we don’t know much), we could very well be going after the wrong party.

I don’t know anything about the law, but here’s how I reason this part out. I dealt with Victor, not Ehrlich. Victor dealt with Ehrlich, not Toyota USA. Ehrlich’s transaction was with Toyota USA, who presumably had a transaction with Toyota Japan, who may have had a third (sixth?) party like Denso actually manufacture the part. It’s a chain of command and you can’t go out of sequence. If Victor had stuck me with the bill, it should be obvious that I’d have to make a claim against him and no one else. In fact, it’s generally the case that the chain above Victor is invisible to me. I have no idea, for example, where Peak Eurosport gets their parts.

So Victor has a loss caused by a bad part. And just as the chain of transactions above Victor are invisible to me, the chain above Ehrlich is invisible to him. He can guess, just as I’ve guessed, what that chain looks like. But he can’t really know. The only party he can go after, then, is Ehrlich.

Victor’s only remedy against Ehrlich is this small claims proceeding. Ehrlich, on the other hand, certainly is in a different situation. Had they done the right thing and paid a warranty claim to Victor for the work, they can surely make the claim from where they got the bad part. And we’ve seen that this relationship exists and works. The engineer that came to HMC to inspect my car was from Toyota USA. It was this engineer that authorized the replacement of the defective cams. This is the undisputed fact: Toyota USA admits the part was bad.

It’s a no-brainer that Ehrlich would pay Victor and make a claim to Toyota, because Toyota admits the fault. So why doesn’t Ehrlich do the right thing? Why make Victor take them to court? I can only assume that the claims resolution mechanism in whatever agreements and contracts exist between Ehrlich and Toyota USA do not allow for payment of damages unless one of their guys does the work. You’d think there’d be some sort of arbitration mechanism. Doesn’t anybody in this chain have any general liability insurance that covers this sort of circumstance? I’d hate to think that the only remedy is going to court. Yet, here we are.

It was approaching noon when we headed out the door. It had taken quite a bit longer than I had anticipated. The judge did not come to a verdict. Not knowing how it all worked, I was a bit surprised. I expected an answer. As the man said, this isn’t Judge Judy. It only makes sense that he should have some time to go through the exhibits and review the testimony before making up his mind.

Leaving the courtroom I was unsure of how things would turn out. But after writing it all out here, I feel pretty good. Ehrlich is the only party we can logically go after. Toyota accepted from the start that the parts they supplied were bad. That’s the key piece. Ehrlich’s only defense was misdirection. I made a mistake in not taking it to a Toyota dealer. I abuse the car by racing it. Van can’t possibly fix a Toyota engine. HMC wasn’t qualified to do the work and had to call in the Lotus mechanic. Victor is going after the wrong people. None of this is true, and none of this changes the fact that all the parts they supplied were defective.

I think chances are good that Victor will win. So the question now is, how long before we get an answer? I will, of course, share the results of the case when I learn the verdict.

The Muffler

When Victor called me last week to discuss the case, he mentioned that he saw the video of my exhaust barfing out its insides. I told him half the shops I’d talked to about repairing it had never heard of repacking the exhaust and that said they could send it to Canada for repair. Victor said they do this sort of work all the time on the Bugattis. It only makes sense: where do you go to replace the muffler for a Bugatti 39? Victor had me bring my exhaust with me so I could give it to him to fix. Rather than repacking with fiberglass they’ll use steel wool. It will sound a bit different, but it should last longer.

When I handed it over, I shook it a bit and we could hear the innards rattling around. They both knew immediately what had happened. Through the center of the can there’s a perforated steel pipe. This pipe has rusted away and could no longer hold the packing. (Rust? It took me half a beat. Water is one of the main outputs of combustion.) They’ll cut the end off, replace the perforated pipe, pack with steel wool, weld it back together and I’ll be on my way. I told them there’s no need to hurry as I’m fine running the stock exhaust for a while.

WarBird Auto Show

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I didn’t know they had sunroofs

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

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

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

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

A nice pair

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

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

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

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

Snow Lake

I’ve been wanting to do this hike for a few weeks. Although the hike neither starts nor ends inside the park, it’s in Foster’s guide. And we did make a short side trip to walk a few paces inside the park, so it goes on my list of RMNP lakes.

Saturday, July 15

The trailhead for this hike is up a dirt road a few miles on the west side of Cameron Pass. Google tells me it’s two and three-quarter hours from my house. It’s a fairly short hike, 3.9 miles to Snow Lake, so we didn’t have to leave too early. Not knowing what condition that dirt road is in, I arranged with Genae to take her car. But when Chad got here, he volunteered to drive. We hit the road in his Pilot at 6:30.

The hike is in the Colorado State Forest State Park. Yes, two “states”. It’s a fee area. There’s a box after we turned off the highway with a place for envelopes and a drop slot. You put your money in the envelope, take the carbon copy and deposit the envelope in the slot. But there were no envelopes, other than one that wouldn’t fit through the slot because it was full of quarters. So I Just chucked the money in the slot.

When we got to the parking lot we find another box, this one with a good supply of envelopes. I put the carbon in the window, scribbled “put cash in other box” on the envelope and put it in the slot.

The trail looks like it used to be an access road to the Michigan Ditch. It clearly hasn’t been used as such for quite a while, but it probably could still serve that need if required. I haven’t researched it, but I assume the Michigan Ditch is roughly the same vintage as the Grand Ditch a few miles south. The Michigan Ditch diverts water from the Agnes Lake drainage to the Cache le Poudre River.

We can assume the former access road the trail follows was built to provide access for the construction of the ditch. This would be roughly a century ago. I can’t help but wonder how big an operation it was. What sort of equipment did they have? How many men doing earthwork and how many more to support them in this remote area? How long did it take to build these ditches?

I’ve been to Grand Ditch twice. It was dry both times. Michigan Ditch was carrying quite a bit of water today; clear, clean, cold. Above the ditch, no longer an access road, the trail narrows and switches back a few times as it climbs. There are abundant open views of the surrounding mountains: all rounded and smooth, with no cliffs and very few rock outcroppings. The Rocky Mountains aren’t so rocky here.

There were a good number of vehicles at the trailhead, and a corresponding number of people on the trail. Being a state park, dogs are allowed, and the majority of hikers had dogs with them. When we arrived at lower Michigan lake, we met three hikers with a dog. They were sitting on the stone blocks that make the trail, stepping stones across the outlet instead of a bridge. They got up to let us pass, but the dog growled and barked at us, protecting the bridge from us.

Lower Michigan Lake

My map indicates the trail to Snow lake goes to the left, where it junctions with the trail to Thunder Pass and into the Park. So that’s where we went. We soon encountered a hiker who told us there is no junction, this trail goes over Thunder Pass. The map is old; today the trail to Snow Lake is on the other side of the lower lake.

Looking north from Thunder Pass

Knowing now that we’re on the trail to Thunder Pass, we make it a side trip. We cross a shallow trickle of a stream and about forty yards of snow. Signs at the top of the pass demarcate the Park boundary. The view to the south is quite nice, if unspectacular. With our backs to Michigan Lakes, all the mountains in sight are rounded tundra. The lower hairpins of Trail Ridge Road are visible in the middle distance. Longs Peak is not visible.

Rather than backtracking to the outlet of the lower lake for the trail to Snow Lake, we head cross country on a route that will take us gently up the slope to the top of the bench that holds the lake. I thought it was a pretty easy climb. I paused at one point to get my bearings and take in the view when I heard a noise at my feet. It’s typical to find marmots in these jumbles of rock. Usually they bark or chirp to sound the alarm then scamper under a rock. This guy came out onto the rock at my feet and posed for us.

We had to cross the outlet stream, but that wasn’t a problem. The water was mostly running underneath the rocks. Where it was on the surface, it was easily stepped across. There was no krummholz to deal with. The only willow in the area was only inches tall. Wildflowers were varied and abundant, but not particularly dense.

Just before cresting the bench we came across the trail from the lakes below. Here we found columbines covering the ground in front of us. There was a patch of white columbines. I’d heard of white ones, but had never seen any.

From there, it was just a few hundred feet to the lake. The lake sits in a rocky bowl, some snow still draping the rocks on the southern shore. The rocks on this side were two to six feet across, with many that might make nice picnic spots. We worked our way a short distance from the top of the trail where the other hikers tended to congregate.

We stayed at the lake for about an hour. Chad spotted a marmot maybe a hundred yards down the shore. The marmot soon started on his way toward us. He made pretty good time. He was on a mission. It wasn’t until he got fairly close before he worried about staying out of sight.

Two hikers arrived at the lake a minute before us and four or five came and left while we were there, the last leaving just a few minutes before us. We followed the trail down to the lower lake. Or, tried to, anyway. We lost the trail coming down the steep slope. This was pretty much straight up and down the slope; I much preferred the way we went up. I think we lost the trail after wading through waist deep willow. Approaching upper Michigan lake, we cross a talus field. Here, it turns out, the trail splits to a high road and a low road. We took the high road, not really noticing. We were on a trail that went along the top of a ridge line; the other path went beside the lake shore.

Below the lakes we came across three women standing on the trail. They’d spotted a cow moose. We paused briefly and when we continued slowly down the trail the moose was working her way parallel to us a ways off the trail. When we got a bit ahead of her she bolted the opposite way. The three women were behind us, one asking “Was that a moose?”

Back near the ditch we encountered some bicyclists. They had been riding the service road beside the ditch and evidently decided to take a little side trip. Their gear and clothing all looked brand new and they seemed out of place to me. I suspect they didn’t get far up the trail before turning around. I suspect they were much more comfortable along the ditch.

We were back to Ft. Collins by five, where we tracked down first some beers, then tacos. It was a most pleasant day.

La Junta, July 8

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ryan’s BFW

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

Lake Haiyaha

Saturday, July 1

It has been a while since I visited Lake Haiyaha in the summer. I have been there many times, and the last three or four visits were in winter. For me, winter and summer trips to are so different that they may as well not have been the same place.

In winter, I follow a route that I’ve proven I’m unable to find on my own. I’ve successfully navigated to ninety lakes in the park, and I’ve spent a lot of time around Bear Lake. It doesn’t bother me that I haven’t been able to get there without a guide. On the contrary, it makes a common hike unusual. On these winter Haiyaha hikes we don’t encounter many other hikers, which is unusual for so close to Bear Lake.

And, of course, in winter the landscape is totally different. Some gullies get filled in, some drifts are twenty feet deep. You take different routes. In winter, at Haiyaha, the water level drops so much, massive shards of ice make volcano shapes around large no-longer-submerged boulders. So although I’ve been there four or five times in the last ten years, it’s been maybe ten years since I’ve been there in summer. It is time to face the crowds and go in summer.

It’s a short hike, so I didn’t need to be early. I’d park at the park and ride and shuttle to Bear Lake. The line for the bus was the longest I’ve ever seen it, but the wait wasn’t too bad. I was on the trail by 9:15. The route I always take is Bear Lake to Nymph and Dream, then to Haiyaha. The return is down to the Loch Vale trail junction, then either the Fire Trail or by Alberta Falls to the Glacier Gorge bus stop.

Between Bear Lake and the trail junction at Dream Lake, a distance of 1.1 miles, I passed over a hundred people. This is people were standing or sitting trailside or hiking in my direction. Not many people going the other way. Conga-line hiking.

From Dream to the bridge over the outlet of Haiyaha it was much better. I could still hear the voices of people on the trail below. My original plan was to go above Haiyaha a little way up Chaos Canyon. Michael and I did that last time we came here. You get a nice view of the lake, but eastern views are not the most dramatic here. With that in mind, I came across a family sitting on a log, taking selfies. They were right next to a fairly obvious trail, which I followed.

The trail petered out after a while, but I easily traversed a small ridge and made my way to the northern shore of Lake Haiyaha. I’d never been on this side before. The trail dumps you into a large pile of boulders. There’s no shore. Here there are many places one could dip their feet into the water, and there is shade, if you want it. I worked my way a bit farther to the west and found a nice spot with a view of Long’s Peak, a much more interesting horizon than up the canyon above the lake. And, best of all, no neighbors.

Spiders construct substantial webs between the boulders. Sometimes they can be hard to spot. One day, traversing a large talus field, the light was just right. I could spot them from several feet away, and see the spider scramble from the center to safety on the rock as I approached. To say that Lake Haiyaha features a rich insect life might be to understate it. Here, today, the spider webs were easy to spot – they all had dozens of captured insects.

I found a nice spot to relax, a seat in the shade and three feet away a seat in the sun with the flank of Otis Peak front and center, the top of the canyon to the right, capped with heavy cornices of snow, and the erect nipple of Long’s Peak to the left. There was a cloud of gnats not far to my left, but they stayed where they were and didn’t annoy me. The occasional horse fly or curious bee made a visit, but no mosquitoes.

I brought both GoPros with me and the cell phone but not the SLR. I tried to get a picture of the laden spider webs but the cell phone isn’t up to it. I was game to get some nice time lapse footage but there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. Pretty blue skies, but just a shade on the hazy side due to wildfires in Utah. But it was clearly particulate matter and not water – passing jetliners’ contrails spanned fingers only a few inches apart, held at arms length.

I reached my spot at 10:10. I didn’t have any other plans for the day, so in theory I could sit here for something like four hours and still get home by 5:00. Surely in the next hour or hour and a half, some clouds would start bubbling up along the divide.

There was nobody on my side of the lake, but twenty or thirty at any given time on the other side. When the wind was calm, or a light breeze blew across the lake to me, I could hear snippets of their conversations. They were a chatty bunch.

At 11:30 I saw a tiny wisp of cloud above Half Mountain so I started up one of the cameras. This little wisp struggled only a short while, lived only a few minutes. I let the camera run, in case it might make a comeback. Alas, it was the only cloud I saw until I was off the trail at 1:45.

Shortly after noon I decided it was time to pack up. Nothing was happening in the sky. Normally, I sit at a lake for thirty minutes to an hour. I’d been here two hours and enjoyed every minute of it. But now I was hearing voices on my side of the lake, somewhere to my east.

On the way to the trail I found the people I’d heard a few minutes before. I surprised them when I greeted them on my way out. As usual, I headed out the back way toward the Loch Vale trail junction. I wasn’t sure yet whether I’d go by Alberta Falls or take the shortcut. I had this section of trail, from the lake to the junction, all to myself. My solitude ended as soon as I hit the main trail again. Any doubt I had as to my way back evaporated like that tiny wisp of cloud. I’d take the shortcut and avoid the hundreds of people on the trail.

I’m happy that I can hike to a place I’ve been to many times before and still get some pleasure out of it. I’m reluctant to take these shorter hikes in summer because of the crowds. Today was probably one of the busiest days of the year. On my way out of the park, the line of cars at the entrance station stretched to just a few yards short of the Beaver Meadows visitor center. Cars were parked illegally along long stretches of Bear Lake Road, and all the parking lots and pullouts were full. And yet, I was able to find a few yards of quiet trail in the busiest part of the park.

Just another beautiful day in the park.

COTA On Reflection

It’s confirmed. I’m no Lewis Hamilton. And I’m no Martin Scorsese. And I present videographic evidence.

This is the first time using two cameras. I kept the Hero 4 in the usual spot and used the suction cup for a rear facing view. I used the rear facing camera for the sound, as it’s right on top of the engine and a bit out of the wind.

I was using DashWare to render the gauges and data, but it quit working. I installed the latest version, no help. So I found another one, Race Render, but haven’t paid for the full version yet. So it’s demo mode – can’t do more than three minutes.

This is basically my entire third session. Rolling through the paddock, onto pit lane and onto the track. Then every car I saw, whether I was passing or getting passed. Then exiting the track and returning to my spot. But there’s not a whole lap in there, so I added my fast lap of the day.

Thursday I was notified my photos were available to download. This is the fourth time I’ve bought pictures. It’s the first time I didn’t drive away with the pictures. The photographer (PhotoMotion) did a good job, not the best of the bunch, not the least. I guess that doesn’t sound too complimentary, but the truth is I’m happy with the results and feel I got good value for the money.

No doubt where this picture was taken.

If I’m in front, that means I’m winning, right?!

I’m not real happy about the taped numbers.

From the third session.

The Austin Hill Climb?

When I travel to these tracks, I’ve been asked how wherever I am compares to other places I’ve been. This is my twelfth track, so it’s a fair question.

The Facility

This is the sixth track I’ve lapped that has hosted a major league race. Others are Portland International Raceway, Laguna Seca, and Elkhart Lake, which were perennial entries in the ChampCar calendar, and Sonoma and Pikes Peak International Raceway, which hosted NASCAR. This one’s Formula One. It doesn’t have that patina of age yet, and only time will tell if it gets it. (Does anybody talk about the F1 track at Indy?)

Circuit of the Americas dwarfs the others when it comes to infrastructure. It’s on the biggest piece of land, has the biggest grandstands, biggest parking lots, the most and best appointed garages, biggest meeting rooms. It can handle the most spectators. It has large video screens and the best public address system. Plus, it’s all still pretty much brand new.

This is the best facility I’m ever likely to visit for a track day.

The Track

I enjoyed driving on this track. A number of other folks talked about how smooth the track is compared to others they’ve been to. It’s smooth, but it’s not without its undulations and bumps you have to account for under braking.

My favorite tracks feature interesting elevation changes, a combination of fast and slow turns, with some blind or otherwise challenging apexes, and lots of run off. I really don’t like walls anywhere near my car. COTA does have elevation changes, but it basically boils down to one hill to climb, then slalom down. Perhaps I’ve been fortunate that I’ve been able to run on tracks that have a lot of terrain. COTA falls squarely in the middle of the road by this metric.

I believe it’s the fastest track I’ve been on. I’m over 100mph three times each lap with a top speed of 120. Each of these straights end in second gear left turns, so it’s a heavy braking track, too. (I wasn’t in the Lotus at Road America. It’s possible RA may be as fast.)

There is a lot of run off here, and most of it’s paved which is new for me. I never put a wheel off. HPR, ORP, and Thunderhill are in wide-open spaces where if you go off you’re just going to mow some weeds. You do some agricultural driving. Here, when you go off you may as well be in a parking lot. Obviously, the surface is in excellent condition. Although none of the other tracks I’ve driven were better, all the newer tracks have nice surfaces. So I was pretty comfortable pushing a bit.

And there are some fun bits to push through. I found the esses challenging and I enjoyed the carousel (almost as much as the one at Road America).

The Track Day

Edge Addicts ran a very professional operation. It was well organized and well staffed. The event ran on schedule but for a slight delay late. I never lost any track time due to an on track incident. There was an outfit there to help you with tire pressures and other services. A professional photographer was on hand to get good photos for everybody.

I didn’t ask for a car count. I’m assuming they want more cars than I want, given the price of operating the facility. There were a lot of cars there, but it didn’t feel crowded. The track day fees for one day would pay for three days at HPR (but I’m spoiled; it’s more like two days at a California facility). There were a lot of nice cars there. Didn’t see anything like a Lemons car. Everybody was well-behaved.

Sessions were short, about twenty minutes each. I’d rather have four twenty five minute sessions than five twenty minute ones – it also means fewer in and out laps. I got five “fast” laps each session, so more than a quarter of my track time was either an out lap or an in lap. A side effect of the short sessions is that cars are released onto the track nose to tail. Immediately you’re in a train of cars. At one point I was tenth in a line of fifteen cars. The flaggers just held up their blue flags for the whole string. With the shorter sessions they’re pretty much forced to get everybody out quickly.

For my California track days, at least, another side effect of the shorter sessions is the need to hustle people back to the pits when the checkered flag is shown. At home the in lap is done with the idea that you don’t use your brakes, let them cool off. Here, like on my California trip, we kept going fairly fast. But I was able to not use my brakes until making the final turn into the paddock.

The Bottom Line

I had a good time. I’m happy to have done this.