Thursday, July 5 – Evening
I arrived at Road America at about 5:00pm and checked in. My packet included a schedule, my driver’s wristband, a ticket for the dinner Friday night. I’d forgotten which group I signed up for; the label on the packet indicated I’m in Group 2. I asked about tent camping and was directed to a window at the other end of the building. There I paid my $50 flat rate (good for the entire weekend). I was to set up anywhere in the paddock where there’s grass.
I picked a spot at the bottom of the hill in the North Paddock and unpacked. I probably should have looked around first; there are some spots that get afternoon shade that might have been better. But by then I’d unloaded the car and met all my neighbors. None of them was camping, so I had the area to myself. I met Jeff, Jeff, Jeff, Dan, Dan, Otto, and Tracy. My little one-man tent was a source of amusement. One of the Jeff’s said he felt bad that his tires had a bigger tent than I did. I joked that it was the biggest tent I could fit in the Lotus.
My next task was to get my tech inspection. About all they did was verify that I had brake lights. They gave a cursory glance at the motor, presumably to spot any obvious leaks. They also checked my helmet, attaching a sticker good for NWSC events through 2026. On the car I got a tech sticker on the left side of the windshield and group sticker for top center of windshield. Mine is “F2”, which translates to Friday Group 2. Other examples I saw were “F2S2” (Friday and Saturday, Group 2) and “Z3” (all weekend, Group 3)
The folks around me, the 3 Jeffs, 2 Dans, and so on, were a nice friendly crowd. We had a 3 series BMW and an M3, a fairly new Boss 302 Mustang, a 1968 Cougar (with an engine so clean you could eat off it), and a late 80’s Thunderbird (that began life as a turbo 4 but is now a V8). Not far away was the only other Lotus entered in the event: a white Exige. Like everybody else in the area, he dropped the car off and went elsewhere for the evening. I didn’t meet Mark until the next day.
I headed to Plymouth for dinner and found a place called Antoinette’s Casual Dining. Sign said Please Wait to Be Seated. I waited quite a while. I made eye contact with every server in the place but was thoroughly ignored. After they took care of some takeout meals and customers paying they finally offered to seat me. Not a great start to the meal, but the service got better. I had a nice bowl of Wisconsin Cheesey Bacon soup and the cranberry chicken salad. The soup came with a warm soft pretzel, which was good for dipping in the thick soup.
By the time I got back to the track the sun was nearly set and my campsite was in shade. I sat in my camp chair and fired up the computer to make notes of the two days drive. In preparation, I sprayed on some mosquito repellent. The computer took more than its usual time to boot up and by the time it was running I was getting buzzed by quite a few mosquitoes. I applied another coat of repellent. This had no effect, and neither did the third coat. So I retreated to the tent. Only one or two of the monsters got in with me so I didn’t get eaten up too badly.
Friday, July 6
With the early bedtime, I was awake by 3:30. I tried to go back to sleep but gave up by 4:30. Got dressed, had some breakfast, then started to wander the paddock. Not much was happening at that early hour. I had a nice chat with a fellow who was running his Factory Five Cobra replica with his son. I talked to them because I the car next to their trailer up on jack stands had Utah plates. These guys weren’t the owners but had loaned their stands out. The problem with the car was that a caliper bolt was missing. I don’t know if they ever got the car on the track while I was there. I’m not sure how that defect was caught in tech; they certainly didn’t look that closely at my car.
Farther up the paddock I saw a truck with Montana plates. The owner saw me and immediately said “No way!” I had a momentary thought that I’d met him on my Pacific northwest trip. I was wrong, but I wasn’t terribly wrong. I quickly realized we were both wearing Oregon Raceway Park t-shirts. ORP is his “local” track. Local being the closest one, at only five hundred miles away. He was running a Panoz Esperante.
I seemed to have driven my car the farthest to attend, but there were quite a few folks who trailered their cars from farther. The guys with the Factory Five Cobra had friends from both coasts who met here: one from California, the other from Massachusetts. I have already mentioned the Montana and Utah plates; I also saw Georgia. But most were Wisconsin, Illinois, Missouri, and Iowa.
As to the cars, I was told there were 178 entrants for Friday. There were the usual proliferation of Mustangs, Corvettes, Porsches, and BMWs. Myself and the aforementioned Exige were the Lotus contingent. There were a handful of Cobra replicas, a couple of 2005 Ford GTs, a GT-40 replica, a Superlite, two old Fiat X1/9’s, a very fast Pantera, a few Focus RS’s, only one or to Miatas, and at least one modern Mini. There must have been a Subaru, but I don’t specifically recall one. Certainly fewer Miatas and Subarus than I usually see. In any event, the focus was on horsepower.
The drivers meeting was at 8:00 at the winners circle area. For the most part, it was the usual drivers meeting: these are the flags, grid up here, exit the track there. Two things were a bit unusual in my experience. First, the organizers asked if anybody was running with airbags in their car. A number of us raised our hands. I’ve never been asked that before. “Some of our rumble strips are extreme. If you hit the wrong one, your airbags will deploy!” My general habit is to avoid the curbs. Having put the Chump Car on the rumble strip in T5 a few years ago I have an idea how harsh they are. The other unusual item was that some of the cars would be doing their point-bys using turn signals. Some of the cars have fixed windows and one gentleman would be driving with hand controls.
One other topic of discussion with my neighbors was fuel. Everybody said I wouldn’t be doing more than two sessions without needing a refill. I told them I can generally run four sessions on a tank. Nobody laughed at me, but in retrospect I’m surprised they didn’t. Fuel consumption here is very high. So I asked where the nearest gas stations were. The track has regular pump fuel on site, but it’s about eight bucks a gallon. So when the time came, I headed to Elkhart Lake to refill.
I don’t recall how I decided I should be in group 2 way back in March when I registered. My general desire is to be in an intermediate group that has point-by passing. But NWSC organizes groups here at RA by lap times, not by experience. Group 1 is fastest and 4 is slowest. So I find myself in the second fastest group in not quite the lowest horsepower car in the event.
When the first session started, I got gridded up near the end of the line. The first lap was under yellow, with no passing. For the rest of the session, I lived in my mirrors. The organizers set up cones to show the passing zones. One cone at the start, two cones at the end. You can’t pass before the first cone and you have to be done by the two cones. At most of the tracks I visit there are only two or three passing zones. For this event, almost everything that wasn’t a turn was a passing zone. Technically, that’s not even true as Road America has some numbered turns that would qualify as straights anywhere else. We had eight passing zones: between 1 and 3, 3 and 5, 5 and 6, 6 and 7, 7 and 8, 10 and 11, 11 and 12, and 12 and 13. I think I pointed people by in six of those places. I was clearly in the wrong group.
After the session I tracked down the organizers and told them I wanted to switch groups. “I’m in Group 2. I ran a 2:55. I want to switch to Group 3.” “We’ll put you in Group 4. 2:55 is a Group 4 time.” After a little back and forth, I made my case for Group 3. They booted up their computer, updated their records, and verified that nobody else in Group 3 was running number 23. Then we peeled the F2 sticker off my windshield and replaced it with an F3.
My next session was much happier than the first. Instead of pointing car after car by me I had my best session of the day, as far as traffic goes. After the out lap, I had four consecutive laps without any traffic. Well, the third lap I did pass a car but he waved me by between T3 and T5 after I lifted off the throttle for only a split second. Only one lap of the session was slower than my fastest lap of the first session, and in that lap I passed three cars and was passed by one.
Between sessions I went over to where Mark parked his Exige. He and his friends rented a carport so they’d have some shade. This is at the corner of the North Paddock, near the exit of T14 where the cars start the steep climb up to the start/finish line. He and I were chatting as I was attempting to get some action shots of the cars. While we were talking, one of the cars caught fire as it started up the hill. I wasn’t quick enough with the camera and missed the shot. But the car was in flames the entire width of the car, dropping oil and trailing a big cloud of white smoke. She missed the entrance to the pits and so left the oil slick on driver’s right all the way up the front straight. The driver was okay, but it took another twenty minutes to clean up the oil. This ended Group 2’s session after one lap.
My third session was a bit frustrating. I quickly got behind a Mustang that was stuck behind a replica Cobra. Neither one seemed to be watching their mirrors. The Mustang had a large rectangular green sticker on the back bumper, which I think is how NWSC indicates a novice driver. When other cars caught us, I’d point them by: the Mustang and Cobra would let them by, but they never let me through. I was doing my best to make myself seen, getting in one mirror then the other but to no avail. I had decided that next time around the start/finish I’d pull off to get a gap. But when the next faster car arrived and I pointed him by, I tailgated him past the obstructing Mustang. A turn or two later the Cobra let me by. I never really got a clean lap the whole session, but on my final lap did manage to match my best time from session 2 to the hundredth of a second. When I saw the checkered flag, I started slowing down. Had I maintained throttle until under the starter’s stand, I’d have bettered my time.
When I walked through the main paddock on top of the hill earlier in the morning I didn’t take the camera. I wanted to make another circuit of the paddock to get some pictures so now was the time. I snapped a few pictures and chatted briefly with a few folks then remembered that we were allowed to go over to race control to take a look. So that’s what I did. After a few minutes in race control the guys there sent me out to the starter’s station: “Go out and talk to Ken. He won’t bite.” From in the car on the way up the hill it looks like the starter stands over the highest point. But from his location you can clearly see that the track continues to climb.
I chatted with Ken briefly. He had work to do and I really didn’t want to bother him. Then I tried taking pictures of the cars from there. It’s a tough angle, and the cars are really hauling here. None of my pictures came out. But while I was shooting, he grabbed the black flag and waved it. Then he put that away and got out the red flag. Two cars came to a stop right below us. I was curious what was going on, but I didn’t want to bother Ken.
Obviously, something serious had happened. I went back to my car and visited with my paddock neighbors while we waited for things to get sorted out. It turns out that one of the Camaros in Group 1 had a big accident just after the Kink. The car was totaled but the driver walked away. They did put him in an ambulance – no doubt even after walking away from a heavy shunt like that you’re going to the hospital to get checked out.
They threw the red flag at about 2:30. An hour later they announced that we’d resume running at 4:10. That turned into 4:40. The track goes cold at 6:00, so a 4:40 start would mean each group’s session would be a bit less than twenty minutes. It was finally announced that we’d resume at 5:00 and we’d run combined groups. Groups 1 and 2 would run together and 3 and 4 would be together. At least that way we’d get a full session. As is typical for the final session of the day a number of people had dropped out for one reason or another, and with this being such a long track I wasn’t too concerned about traffic.
Two of the cars of my neighbors were victims of attrition. Tracy’s BMW had a front brake disk that was developing a crack. She’s not a big fan of exploding brake disks so she parked it while her husband scoured the region for a replacement. They found one two and a half hours away. At least she’d be able to get back on the track for Saturday.
The Thunderbird was also out with a broken heim joint. He had replacement parts just after 5:00 but not in time to get back on the track that day. He talked a bit about how the car was handling. He evidently has some odd combination of suspension parts. He says it’s okay for the most part. But when he’s side-by-side with another car in the Kettle Bottoms (the fast bit after the Kink) the car acts a bit squirrely. That seems to me to be not the best place to have a squirrely handling car.
So my last session had more traffic than the other two that I ran in Group 3. For this session I decided to forego the rear-facing view and put the camera on the nose of the car. I left the other camera on top of the car, so I’d have both facing forward. As it turns out, the battery in the top camera died during the session so the only footage I have is from the nose mount.
I didn’t get to improve my best time due to all the traffic but I had fun nonetheless. I’m not saying I was the fastest car on the track in the group (because I wasn’t), but I didn’t see any faster cars the whole time. I passed every other car I saw. And I saw a bunch of cars I hadn’t seen on track all day, including the replica GT-40 and a Ford GT. I have no idea how fast that replica is, but the driver was pretty slow. I know the Ford GT is a really fast car, but he was slow too.
NWSC puts on a big dinner on the Friday night of this event. I had a meal ticket in my registration packet. But when I went to look for it, I couldn’t find it. I knew it was around somewhere but I had no luck tracking it down. Most of my neighbors were going off-track for dinner, so one of them donated their spare ticket to me. It was a nice meal: fried chicken, BBQ chicken, fish, and prime rib along with scalloped potatoes, mixed vegetables, salad, rolls, and a variety of desserts.
I sat with one of the Jeffs and some other random track rats. The gentleman who sat on my left drives a Corvette ZR-1 with a Calloway supercharger. He says it’s the seventeenth Corvette he’s owned. I wanted to ask him why he couldn’t find one he liked, but I was a good boy. He was wearing a great t-shirt: it said “Point Me By”, printed in reverse.
By the time I was back to my tent, the sun had gone down. I didn’t bother with the mosquito repellent. On the way to my site I chatted with some other campers. They had a fire going. I asked if that was how they avoided the mosquitoes. “Yeah, the mosquitoes around here just laugh at Off.” So it was another early night for me. I was asleep before ten.
I slept well, not waking up until about five. My tarp and tent were wet with dew, so I took my time packing up. Of course, I found my meal ticket. I was on the road not long after six.
Road America is by far the fastest track I’ve ever driven on. I doubt I’ll ever drive on a faster track. On its three long straights, I’m in fifth gear on cam at wide-open throttle for nearly thirty seconds each lap. On two of those straights I was able to top 120mph regularly, with a recorded top speed of 124. There isn’t a second gear turn anywhere. By the end of the day I was taking turn 1 in fourth and was able to navigate the Kink without braking. I’m in fourth gear through the Carousel even though I’m not on the second cam.
When I was here with Chump Car we ran the chicane after the Carousel, so we didn’t have to deal with the Kink. The Kink has been called the most dangerous turn on any track in America. I certainly had a healthy fear of it. There is no run off and a concrete wall is just a few feet away. If you make a mistake you’ll pay heavily for it. If that wall weren’t there I think I might be able to take it nearly flat, which would make it a faster turn than turns 1/2 at La Junta. But with that wall so close I don’t know how much faster I’d be willing to go than I went today.
I was probably most surprised at how my car performed in the Carousel. I don’t know for sure, but I was probably on the hardest tires of any car in the event. The vast majority were running on R-compounds and quite a few were on slicks. On my 460 treadwear tires I was able to gain on almost everybody in the Carousel. Sometimes my little car amazes me.
I think NWSC put on a good event. I’d gladly run with them again, although it’s unlikely I’ll make the long trek again any time soon. It was a long drive for one day of lapping, and I’m obviously a mental defective for doing it. But I sure did have fun!