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.

Race Against Kids Cancer

Saturday was day one of Rocky Mountain Vintage Racers big weekend at High Plains Raceway. One of the objects of the event was to raise a bunch of money for the Morgan Adams Foundation “Race Against Kids Cancer” to buy a flow cytometer, whatever that is.

One of the many ways of generating cash was to sell rides in cars during the lunch hour. Rides were available at the $200, $100, and $40 level. For $200 you get to ride in a race car. Those were fairly limited as not many of the race cars have passenger seats. The forty dollar ride was in a “guest car”. I figured that would include me. Rides were an out lap, fast lap, and in lap.

I’ve done lunch laps a couple times before. There are two basic types – fast laps with corner workers or parade laps behind a pace car. This was more of a mix – helmets were required, but other passenger attire rules (long sleeves, long pants, no open toed shoes) were waived. Also, kids under 18 were allowed. Grid girls got a free ride in a $100 car, and corner workers also got free rides. I had six passengers – four who made contributions, a grid girl, and a corner worker.

I got there a bit before 11 thinking I’d need to get an inspection after checking in, and I wanted enough time to grab a bite to eat as well. I found the booth where they were selling the rides and they pointed me to one of the carports where I signed in and got my wrist band. Turns out I didn’t need an inspection. After I ate I stuck fairly close to the pavilion. Schomp BMW had several cars there, which turned out to be lunch lap cars too.

The races were running a bit late so we didn’t grid up until about 12:30. This was in the pit lane rather than where we grid up for club days. One of the grid workers said a few words to each driver. He told me I was a $100 car and was lined up in the proper place. That was a pleasant surprise. I was sure I was a $40 car – most of the cars gridded up were faster and much more expensive. Chalk another one up to the Elise’s drop-dead good looks!

Photo by William Taylor, Coterie Press

Photo by William Taylor, Coterie Press

I asked each rider if they wanted to go fast. They all said “yes”. Of course they did, that’s pretty much the object of the game. But I don’t know that they really have the same idea of fast as I do. I’m guessing most of them had never been on a track before. I’m going to enter corners twice as fast as many of them have ever experienced. Most of them obviously enjoyed it. But I wonder if I freaked out the kid a bit. He was too short to brace himself with his feet. I’m belted in with a CG lock, but I don’t have one for the passenger. He got tossed around a fair amount, and I’m not sure how well he could see.

On track days cars get released from the grid several seconds apart. Here you made your way out whenever you got somebody strapped in. With my first passenger we were in a line of cars fairly close together. A Porsche GT-2 and a BMW flew past us half way down the highway straight. I didn’t wave the second BMW through, but he passed me at the last moment. I admit I took more than a little pleasure knowing he shouldn’t have done it. His acceleration and top speed weren’t much better than mine, but he missed apexes and had to brake much earlier than me. He let me by less than a lap later, in turn 2.

Due to the lax attire rules, the grid girls all got rides. Luckily, I had the top off. They were leggy and wore high heels and form fitting outfits that barely covered their bottoms. My rider managed to ingress and egress without major loss of dignity. I chatted with her briefly afterwards. She made two observations. First, she couldn’t help but notice that while she was wearing what she was wearing, I was dressed head to toe in a fire resistant suit. And second, when we were going down the highway straight I pointed out a truck carrying a wind turbine blade. She felt I should have been keeping my eyes on the track. That’s about the only place on the track I can relax!

2014-08-02 14.13.16sWhen I was hanging around the pavilion before getting on the track, there was a giant pickup truck nearby. At one point there was another truck of the same model and year parked next to it. Quite a size difference. So on the way out I had to get next to it for a picture. It’s just a few inches too low for me to drive under.

This video is a bit longer than I usually post – just short of 11 minutes, and it only includes one lap. A good time was had by all. I got to run 17 laps (6 out, 6 in, 5 flying) for free and got a bit of a “warm fuzzy” for helping out a charity.


Today I received an email reporting that RMVR raised $137,000. I think their goal was $87,000, so it’s great they exceeded it by a good margin.