Hoosier Saga

No, this is not the story of how Indiana was settled.

Several months ago I found a set of “gently used” Hoosier A7 slicks for sale on Lotus Talk. The seller was in Fountain Hills, Arizona, which added a bit to the degree of difficulty in obtaining them, but only a bit. Michael was in school in Phoenix so he could fetch them for me if I managed to strike a deal. We knew we’d be bringing a load of his stuff back to Denver at the end of the summer anyway, so why not add a set of tires to the mix?

I contacted the seller, who wanted two hundred dollars. I told him they weren’t worth that much to me and asked if he’d take forty. After a long pause he countered with sixty and we had a deal. Michael went to his house to collect them, and when Michael graduated I went down to Phoenix and helped him move his stuff home, along with my set of slicks.

Here it is the end of September, and finally time to put the rubber to the road, so to speak. I’ve been thinking about the difference between the Hoosiers and the Dunlops for quite a while now. The anticipation was exquisite. How much faster can I go over the course of a lap? Specifically, I wondered if I could average two miles per hour over the whole lap. If I exited turn 3 two miles an hour faster, could I carry that two miles per hour down the length of the highway straight? How much faster could I go in the sweeping uphill right handers of turns 7 and 11? I was pretty sure I could take turn 3 flat. I was pretty sure I could take 7 in fourth gear instead of third. Certainly I could average two miles per hour better. Then I did the math. Two miles per hour works out to about four seconds per lap. Two miles per hour doesn’t sound like much, but four seconds per lap sounds huge.

Sunday, September 23

The thing about track wheels and tires for an Elise that is driven to the track rather than trailered is that a support vehicle is necessary. My last set of track tires were street legal – I could mount them on the car at home and drive to and from the track – but slicks definitely are not. I sure wouldn’t want to get stuck in even the lightest rain in slicks. Also, I’d basically use the tires up completely driving them the 140 miles or so for the round trip. So I can’t run the slicks unless somebody goes with me. Michael kindly volunteered, even with the proviso that there’d be at least one session where I wouldn’t want a passenger so I could try to set a fast lap. (I figure the weight of a passenger costs me something like two seconds per lap.)

This was an Emich sponsored event and they offer full day, morning only, and afternoon only sessions. I signed up for only the afternoon session, with (I thought) the drivers meeting starting at noon. They’d break us into two groups, fast and slow, and we’d get four half-hour runs. My experience with these things is that most of the full day runners give up by mid-afternoon and that I’d have the most traffic in the first run and least in the last one.

Michael and I met up with Scott at the park and ride and we caravanned to Byers where we filled up with fuel. Michael and I abandoned Scott at the gas station so we could get a head start on setting up our stuff. We brought not only my track wheels but some chairs and a “gazebo”. That’s what it says on the box, but I’d call it more like a canopy. It provides shade, anyway, if the wind doesn’t carry it off. This was a risk, as we didn’t have any bungees to allow us to use the street wheels as ballast. We weren’t expecting wind, but you never know.

Turns out I was wrong on the meeting time, which was actually 12:30. That’s not a bad thing, as we didn’t have to hurry with anything. We got the canopy deployed and I went to work swapping the wheels. Here I will interject that I was poking around the internet the night before trying to decide how often I need to replace the wheel studs. So I use the breaker bar to get the lug nuts started all the way around, then start at the left front wheel with the impact wrench. Wouldn’t you know, the very first lug comes off bringing the stud with it.

I showed it to Michael and said, “Well, I’m done for the day!” I was pretty crestfallen. I lost a stud several years ago at an Eiskhana event and tried to drive it home slowly. Before I got home another stud failed. I ended up getting towed that time.

Luckily, Mark happened to be there. I met Mark through Dennis. Dennis owned the car I drove in the ChumpCar race at Road America a few years back. Dennis ran his car in three different race series so he had to have a pretty long list of drivers available. Mark was one of those drivers. He was here today running his Miata.

Mark says, “I’ve got some blue Loctite.” So we put that sucker back in and had an hour or so to cure before I took it out. I was still pretty concerned during my first session, paying close attention for any unusual vibrations. But all is well, and at the end of the day when we swapped back to the street wheels the stud stayed in place. In any event, even though I don’t have an answer to “how often do I need to replace the studs” I do know that I’ll be replacing them in the next few weeks.

I went out for the first session without Michael in the passenger seat. I was a bit uncertain how the slicks would work. They’re autocross tires, designed to heat up very quickly. So they’re not necessarily suited to running a half-hour track session. I’ve been told they’ll get greasy pretty quickly. One experienced racer told me I might only get one good lap on them. And, as I said, I was concerned about the stud.

But the biggest problem in that first session was the traffic. It was a bit like rush hour. Scott wanted to follow me around for the first lap, so I took it pretty easy. By the end of our out lap we were catching up to people. Going in to turn 4 I was seventh in line. The fast group is open passing, meaning we didn’t need the slower car to point us by. And everybody in front of me had a horsepower advantage. Nobody was pointing anybody by, but nobody was able to execute a pass. I got by two BMW’s and next time into turn 4 I was still seventh in line. At the end of the lap two cars went into the pits and on the pit straight I passed two more and got another in turn 1. It was the fourth lap before I got a clean run. That lap ended up being the day’s best. It was the only lap of the session where I had no traffic.

That best lap beat by previous best by two seconds and my best on the Dunlops by nearly five seconds. So I managed to get my two miles per hour. It was a little like driving a different car. Because of the greater cornering speed, I didn’t have to resort to my unusual line through 2, 6, and 11. I took 3 flat once or twice and was easily on cam in fourth gear through turn 7. I was six miles per hour faster in the pit straight, ten miles per hour faster through turn 4 and six miles per hour faster through turn 7. And yet I was slower on the highway straight. It was exhilarating. And I felt I could beat that time by another two seconds if I had a few clean laps.

The next two sessions I took Michael as a passenger. I’m thinking a passenger costs me about two seconds per lap. The first session with him I managed a 2:10, which isn’t much slower than that two seconds. The second session with Michael I had two laps in the 2:07’s, just a fraction slower than my best lap of that first session. If my two second guesstimate for the passenger is correct, my goal of doing a 2:05 is within reach. My lap timer confirmed that: it says my optimal lap in my first session was a 2:05.53. (That optimal lap is comprised of my best times in each of the three sectors put together as a theoretical lap.)

My last session started at 4:30. By now most people had left. I should be able to run eight or nine laps without any traffic. The tires still felt great, never felt greasy once. I was feeling good. I was psyched.

In my first timed lap (according to the data) I entered turn 7 two miles an hour faster than I had all day. Going up the hill I was in fourth gear and on cam. At the time, I’d have said I was doing it just as I’d done two dozen times already. But the data shows that I got off the throttle a little earlier than I had before. With the extra entry speed, I must have felt I was running wide at the exit, so I got off the throttle a little early.

I lost the back of the car, went into a spin, dropped the rear off the track. After 180 degrees was momentarily rolling backwards up the track before the car spun another 180 degrees. The car stalled and the oil light was illuminated for a second or two. I was going again right away. I never went more than a few inches off the track. But it was a violent spin. I’ve been sideways many times and always caught it. The only two times I spun the car before this was when I had the hub carrier bolts shear.

At the end of the lap I reported to the black flag station. Glen was already there talking to another driver. When it was my turn he asked what happened. I told him I lost it, that I spun all the way around. But I said maybe it was 180 one direction then 180 back the other way. “You don’t know how many times you spun?” I was there, I did it, but my eyewitness testimony was unreliable.

Everything felt okay, and Glen looked the car over and let me rejoin the session. On the next lap, as I was nearing turn 4 a car lost it between 4 and 5, first going off the left side, then crossing the track and going off the right side. He kicked up an enormous dust cloud and the lights in the turn 5 bunker were flashing yellow. I went pretty slow through the cloud of dust, not really sure where that car ended up.

Next time around, when I entered turn 4 I tried to downshift from fifth to fourth. But I couldn’t find fourth. I eventually got it back into fifth, but something was wrong. I continued slowly, trying to find a gear other than fifth. I eventually got one, but things were not good. I exited the track and going slowly through the paddock I heard a new noise. The noise went away when I engaged the clutch, came back when I released it.

With the car stopped I was able to select any gear. Michael jumped in and we drove slowly through the paddock. Gear selection was working again, but the noise was still there. We looked things over to the best of our ability when we remounted the street wheels. Nothing looked amiss with the suspension. Michael suggested that I’d broken a transmission mount. That would fit the symptoms. After a short discussion we decided I could drive the car home, taking it easy. So we packed everything up and hit the road.

Monday, September 24

At lunch today we put the car up on the ramps, took off the access panel under the engine and had a good look around. The rear engine mount is clearly broken, but the other three look intact. None of the bolts or studs appear to be damaged and everything else looks good.

I spent a fair amount of time looking at the video of the incident. I’m going to have to go with driver error. I shouldn’t have lifted until I had the car straightened out. For years I’ve heard that LOTUS stands for “Lift Off Throttle U Spin”, but I’ve never experienced it. That was quite the introduction.

Next on the agenda is ordering a set of motor mounts. I’m going to go with an upgrade from OEM. I’ve done a fair amount of research and will go with the Innovative mounts. I expect to feel a fair amount of additional vibration in the cabin, but these mounts will be better suited to the track and will likely improve shifter feel.

I’ll also order a new set of wheel studs.

I’ve been happy running track days on my street tires. I don’t feel the need to run on slicks all the time, and I really don’t want to spend a bunch of money on tires. The last set of track tires cost me about $800 and lasted four days. I got these Hoosiers because they were a bargain. I will continue to use these tires until they’re used up, whenever I can get somebody to cart them out to the track for me. But I know running slicks greatly increases wear and tear on the car. I do want to run better tires at the track, but ideally I could drive them to and from; ideally they’d last ten or twelve track days. I’ll keep looking.

But there’s no denying the thrill I got from these tires. Until the end there.

Return to Woody Creek

Saturday, September 15

It’s time again for the RMVR race through the streets of Snowmass. It’s a big event and they need a lot of volunteers. Just like last year, they’re bribing me with free laps at Aspen Motorsports Park. (It used to be called Woody Creek and although I was never there when it operated under that name, I will continue to call it Woody Creek.) The place is privately owned and there are limited opportunities to run there, so I’ll take advantage of the opportunity. Last year’s visit was less than ideal, so I’m confident I’ll have a much better experience this time.

I was out the door by a quarter after seven, fueled up and on my way by 7:30.

The aspen are quite nice right now. Many trees still have some green leaves so unless there’s a big wind storm I should have some nice views on the way home. Why “the way home” and not “this morning?” I left the house early enough to make a stab at hiking to Hanging Lake. I’ve never been there, and next year they’re going to a permit system which will likely mean a lottery. I figure there’s a slight chance that I can get into the parking lot today, so that’s what I’m shooting for. But I will admit that the chances are not great.

I made it to the parking lot there a bit after 10:30 but the parking lot was full. Dang. Oh well. The ranger suggested I try later this afternoon, but I’ll be busy. The original plan was to go home via Independence Pass and Loveland Pass and get some GoPro footage of both of them. Instead, I think I’ll take another stab at Hanging Lake on Tuesday. If I get there early enough I should be in business. Early enough might be 8am. Which would mean being on the road by 7. Sounds doable.

Without the detour to Hanging Lake, I arrived at the track at a quarter to 11, which was way too early. But that’s okay. They were letting people in, so I had a leisurely time unpacking the car and getting everything ready.

Last year, the track day was after the RMVR race and a bunch of race cars showed up. This time it’s before the race and it’s only volunteers. At the start we had 10 cars, which we broke into two groups of five. The track is 1.1 miles long and they set up some tire barriers on the back straight to make a chicane. The track is narrow and bumpy and with the chicane isn’t well suited to passing, so we won’t be doing any. If we catch a slower car we are to go into the pit and wait for a release onto clear track.

Even with the extra time before my first session I managed to dilly dally too long. RaceChrono doesn’t have Aspen Motorsports Park in the library so I had to add it. It has been a while since I did this, and I’d forgotten exactly how to do it. So I ran the first session I ran without the lap timer.

Between sessions one and two I got the track added. It took me a while to figure it out, but that’s not because it’s hard to do but because I can sometimes be clueless. It’s actually pretty easy. At minimum, just plop a marker down at the start/finish line, rotate the arrow to match the running direction, and optionally set the width of the track.

In the second session I gave a ride to one of the paramedics. He used to work at the Lotus dealer in Denver many years ago. He has ridden in an Elise, but has never been in one on the track. He was quite impressed by the car’s ability to change direction. After a few laps I dropped him off so he could get back to his job. It wouldn’t be ideal for us if something happened where we needed the ambulance but both the paramedics were getting rides.

When I got out of the car after the second session to shut off the cameras, the new one’s battery had died. I usually get three sessions on a full charge. I thought I had full charges in all the cameras but am clearly mistaken. We were running twenty minute sessions and there was still plenty of time before I needed to be at the meeting. My goal for the day was to get three sessions, and I’d have no trouble doing that even taking a break. So I sat out a session while I charged the battery.

Third session I gave a ride to one of the other volunteers. He kept up a running commentary the whole time he was in the car but I couldn’t hear a word he said. Afterwards we chatted; he said he was saying mostly favorable things. Both passengers were impressed with the car.

Leader Board

Batteries survived the third session, where I set my best time. Under the  little canopy in the pits where they have some tables and coolers and helmets to borrow, they have a leader board posted. The important things to note about these times is that they’re run by the members of the track who have run many, many laps, and that the laps they’re running don’t include the chicane. I think my times were favorable (my best was 1:09.19), given that this was essentially my first day there and the chicane certainly slowed me down.

Racing heritage?

After everybody was off the track Jason brought out his Europa. It sat in a barn for years before he bought it and has only about thirty thousand miles on the clock. It also seems to have some racing heritage based on some stickers in the engine compartment. The way he talked about it I was expecting it to be in rougher shape. He wanted to do a size comparison against the Elise. They’re very similar sizes: measurement by eyeball says the Europa is an inch or two longer and maybe an inch lower.

Side by side

I left the track in time to get checked into the hotel before our required 5pm meeting. On the way to highway 82 I saw a bunch of McLarens heading to the track. They had a short session starting at 4. I gave a peace sign to the first group of 5 or 6 cars but only the last guy in line acknowledged me. I waved at the next group of 4 or 5 and they all waved back. Maybe McLaren owners don’t like peace signs.

I got checked in and headed to my room to drop off most of my stuff. On the stairs I met my roommate for the stay: Brian. The door lock wasn’t working and he had called the maintenance guys. They showed up just after I did. He said he’d only be using the room for the shower because he’ll be sleeping in his van. That works for me. I dumped the first pile of my stuff on the bed then parked the car. Upon my return Brian had already left and my key didn’t work, so I had to get it re-keyed.

This meeting was for both corner workers and crowd control. Last year it was two separate meetings. It sounds like they learned some lessons from last year. From my limited perspective, last year’s event went off pretty well, but there’s always room for improvement. This year it’s a two day event rather than a single day. My assigned station this year is about a hundred yards up the hill from last year. I was on a straightaway last time and this time I’m in a corner, which should be more entertaining. Last year I didn’t have much to do, as I wasn’t in a very busy spot. I’m guessing this year will be very similar.

I went back to the room and I got the laptop fired up in order to copy the videos from the cameras. But the laptop didn’t recognize the newer camera. At the same time, Windows decided it needed to update itself. The laptop is so old it doesn’t perform very well, and doesn’t like to multi task. So I didn’t expect to make much progress.

Luckily, Jason was done at the track and was free for dinner. Even though he’s not a beer drinker, he kindly agreed to meet me at the brew pub closest to my hotel. We had a nice chat and I ate too much.

Here’s a video with a few laps. They’re short laps. I don’t think the bumpiness of the track comes through on the video, but it’s pretty obvious how narrow it is. Also note that all the turns are second gear and I’m only into third gear twice each lap. Still, that fast lap works out to about 57mph average speed. Above, I mentioned that when we caught a slower car we were to pull into the pits and wait for a gap. It didn’t always work out that way – sometimes the slower car pulled over for me.

HPR in the Dark

Thursday, June 26

I did a Thursday evening session last year. We got sprinkled on but it never got wet, and I had to end early due to my battery coming dislodged. So I’ve been looking forward to another Thursday evening session for about a year. I figured I’d be able to stay long enough for it to get dark, but was sort of hoping we’d have a thunderstorm roll through so I could see what it’s like in the wet.

It didn’t rain until the drive home, but more about that later.

I finally met Martha, who was the high bidder at a fund raiser several months ago for a ride in the car. We’d been trading messages for quite a while. At one point, she was going to give her ride to Lucia. As it turns out they both were there. Martha rode for only a few laps so I gave Lucia a few laps too. They both seemed to enjoy it.

The first session after they left, I noticed that RaceChrono was showing me a message: “Connecting to ODB…” It never could connect, so the first several sessions are without OBD data. That’s disappointing. I’d been bragging how well everything was working, and was looking forward to using the speed data from the ODB rather than the phone, which should be more accurate. I eventually got it working after unplugging the dongle then plugging it back in (that didn’t work), turning the phone off and back on (that didn’t work), then removing the ODB device from RaceChrono and adding it back in.

I ended up running six sessions. Four of those totaled only sixteen laps though, so that works out to be more like two sessions. The other two sessions were ten and eleven laps, so it comes out to about four full sessions. But I only got OBD data for the last two, which were four laps each. That should have been a single session, but when I got out on track I noticed I was low on gas. It hadn’t gotten fully dark yet, and I wanted to keep going, so I pumped a couple gallons of rocket fuel (98 octane unleaded racing gas) into the tank and went back out.

I really had a good time. There weren’t many cars running so we didn’t bother with the usual fast and slow groups. I ran about as many laps as I would during a CECA event for a bit over half the cost. I had a couple of nice laps in there as well. I ran two laps in the 2:12’s, which is as fast as I’ve ever done on the Direzza tires. My quickest ever is in the 2:09’s running on the stock Yoko’s. At the time, by best on the Direzzas was in the 2:14’s. I picked up a gently used set of A7’s and I can’t help but wonder how much faster those tires are. I would expect them to be quicker than the Yoko’s, so until I find out I’m operating under the delusion a 2:07 may be attainable. That must be delusional thinking, right?

I will admit here that I went four wheels off the track twice. First, I was on a flyer and through the first three turns was improving on my fastest lap of the evening. Then I caught up to Chad at the end of the highway straight. I figured I’d be past him before the braking zone but misjudged it a bit. He broke later than I anticipated. So I found myself braking too late and well inside my usual line. I had no hope of making it so I straight-lined it.

The second time was my very last lap. I had just done my best lap of the day. That lap was in near dark and every minute was getting darker. I could easily run pretty decent laps in the dark, but it’s more of a challenge to push it. I pushed it into turn three and badly missed the apex. That was confirmation that I wouldn’t be improving my time, and gave me a bit of insight into what the endurance racers face. They have better lights, but still, it’s a challenge.

The drive home was the most exciting part of the evening. It was only sprinkling on the drive from the track to Byers, but lightning was strobing the clouds clear across the horizon. It started raining when I got to the gas station, but it wasn’t terribly heavy yet. A few miles up I-70 it really started coming down. I had a hard time with visibility and had to slow to about 55. Then it stopped raining and a the road was dry in the right lane.

A few minutes later, the rain came down in Biblical proportions. I wasn’t having any problems with hydroplaning but I was really having a hard time seeing the lane markings. I had both windows cracked but the windshield started fogging up badly. Trying to get the windshield de-fogged I opened both windows a bit farther. Pretty much everything got soaked. I slowed down to about 20. A bunch of cars and trucks had pulled over to the side of the road and stopped. I considered it, but was afraid I wouldn’t get fully off the road and would get rear-ended. So I kept crawling along. Thankfully, a flatbed semi passed me and I had an easier time following him. I managed to get the defroster going and cleared a bit of windshield. It continued like this for quite a while. Luckily, there was no hail.

So here’s the best lap of the evening. I ran the new GoPro’s battery down on the previous session. I have a spare for the old camera (which usually gets mounted on the back, for rear view and sound). With just the one camera, the sound isn’t as good. And I didn’t aim it very well so I have too much cockpit for my taste. Finally, being that it’s an automatic exposure, it comes out lighter than it really was and introduces all that noise.

Road America Blitz – North Woods Shelby Club

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.

Reflections

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!

Yet Another HPR Video

Sunday, April 29

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

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

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

The runners

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

Ryan already in the trailer

Not much else to report.

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

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

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

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

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

Pueblo Motorsports Park

Saturday, April 21

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Viper TA

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

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

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

1969 Shelby GT 350

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

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

The Lotus contingent

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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.

Thursday Night Open Lapping

Thursday, August 31

High Plains has offered Thursday night open lapping for the last two summers. I’ve been wanting to do it but somehow never made it a priority. They run a hot track from 5 to 9pm. Last week Scott asked if I wanted to go. I pondered it a day or so before responding in the affirmative. Scott and Mark met me at the park and ride.

I’ve never lapped at night and I’ve never lapped in wet conditions. With sunset at about 7:30, I would certainly get to drive in the dark. And this time of year is perfect for evening thunder showers on Colorado’s eastern plains so I felt there was a better than even chance of some rain.

Heading east on I-70 we could see a dark cloud above Byers, dropping rain from one end. We had to stop at the gas station for fuel. I pulled up to the pump but stayed in the car. The roof isn’t exactly rain proof and I had a couple of big leaks dripping on the sills. I was pondering how long I’d sit there, delaying the inevitable drenching, when the rain noticeably slackened. Even though I sat in the car while the gas pumped, my shirt got pretty wet. Which, in turn, caused all the windows to fog up.

Mark and I were fueled up but Scott hadn’t started yet. So we ditched him, Top Gear style, and headed to the track. A couple of miles down the road we were out from under the cloudburst and back on dry roads.

I didn’t get a car count, but we had a small enough turnout that we didn’t run any groups.

I may have been the fastest car on the track when I headed out the first time. Nobody ever passed me, and I passed six or eight cars. It was sprinkling a bit; for a short time I had to put the wipers on intermittent. The track surface never got wet. It never was wet enough to glisten. But every now and then, I could feel a little loss of traction.

I guess it was a little perverse of me to want it to rain. There were a few showers in the vicinity, none likely as wet as what we had at the gas station. They’re happy to run the track in the wet, as long as no nearby lightning endangers the corner workers. But although lightning occasionally flashed on the horizon, neither lightning nor rain was an issue tonight.

I finally got a working suction mount for the phone. The last few track days I’ve had to keep the phone in my pocket where I can’t see it. It’s a big help to get the immediate feedback on what you’re doing. I tried changing my line through one turn. Run a couple of laps the old way, then a couple the new way and see whether I’m gaining or losing time.

During my second session they had to deploy the tow truck to collect a stricken BMW between turns 6 and 7. I was expecting it to take a lap longer than it did for them to complete the operation. The tow truck was on the move before I got to the start/finish line. As I approached turns 1 and 2, the yellow lights were getting turned off. I passed the truck on the highway straight. Next time around, he was hooking up the car. He took the short-cut at the top of the hill and were off the track by the time I came back around again. That’s something like eight minutes. Very efficient.

After the second session I opened the boot lid to find my battery out of its mount, laying on its side. I got lucky here. I’ve seen pictures of rear clams damaged by a loose battery. It can cause serious damage. I never heard it banging around and there’s no damage I can see.

The bracket had not come loose, the battery just popped out of the mount. I attempted a repair but was unable to get it secure. So my day was done. When I expressed my disappointment that I didn’t get to drive in the dark, Scott, the generous guy he is, offered to let me take a few laps in his car. Twist my arm.

Although I’ve ridden in many Elises, this is the first time I’ve driven one other than my own. It’s only the second car I’ve tracked that isn’t mine (the Mazda Chump Car being the other). Scott’s car is supercharged and he’s on better tires. I had my doubts about the tires, though. They had been stored in the cold over the winter and I’ve heard bad things about that. Also, the suspension is different, his being standard and mine being track pack.

He gave me the keys and said, “Don’t break it! Try to do more like a 2:20 than a 2:13.” I ran a few laps. I had the phone in my pocket, so I couldn’t see what my times were until I was out of the car. My first impressions were how different the car is. The seats are different (mine are cloth, his are leather). The clutch had a different feel, he’s got a different shifter.

And the most obvious difference is the power. I never pushed the car. I short-shifted and was on the brakes much earlier than usual. Even so, I was often in fourth gear in places where I’m always in third. Turns out I did a 2:17 and topped 119mph on the highway straight. That’s 10mph faster than I managed in my car tonight. Without pushing it.

I was really looking forward to driving in the dark, and would have enjoyed driving in the wet, but missed out on both. I was hoping to get four sessions, which would have made the event about half the cost per lap as a day with CECA. But with the mechanical failure, I only got two sessions so it was back to par.

Battery

Turns out it was an easy fix – I didn’t realize the lip on the base of the battery was not symmetrical. If I’d turned it around 180 degrees I’d have been in business. I had the battery replaced on my trip to Austin in June. I’m wondering if it was installed improperly since then. If so, it managed to sit tight for about three track days (COTA, La Junta, and the RAKC lunch laps).

I’ve seen photos of damage done to other people’s Elises due to the battery flopping around in the boot. I’ve had a good look and don’t see the slightest sign of damage to my car. I’d say I dodged a bullet.

Turn Signals

From the time I bought the car, the left turn signal has blinked at twice the rate of the right. Some have said this is an indication that the turn signal will fail. It kept working for me for quite a while. But for the last five years or so the left rear hasn’t been working. I’ve tried a couple of proposed solutions without finding a fix. I was told that the entire unit needs to be replaced. There are two problems with this answer. First, the parts are about impossible to find. Second, the assembly is quite expensive.

So I’ve been using hand signals. I still use the signal, as the front works okay. I just use the hand signal when there’s somebody behind me.

Last week on the way home from the LoCo picnic I noticed that the left turn signal was now blinking at the same rate as the right side. Back home in the garage, I got out to look. Sure enough, it was working! As I stood there watching, it began to alternate between blinking slow and fast. The joy was short-lived, though, as it quickly went back to blinking fast and not working. It worked for perhaps two minutes.

On the way home from HPR it worked for the entire drive. It has failed again since then, though, so I’m back to hand signals. I find it odd that it doesn’t work for years and now all of a sudden decides to work every now and then.

Tires

I bought Yokohama tires last year for track days. I got four days out of them. The rears are almost slick. The fronts have tread, but I’m pretty sure they’re heat cycled out. I expected to get at least six days, so I’m pretty disappointed. On the first of those four days I recorded my personal best lap time at HPR: 2:09 and a fraction. Since then, a 2:14 has been my best. I’ve managed 2:14 on the Dunlops, so I’d have to say my disappointment isn’t limited to their longevity.

So now I’ve done a 2:13 with the Dunlops. That’s with a full fuel tank and a light rain falling. I’m certain the 2:09 is out of range on the Dunlops. But I’m out there lapping for fun, not to win any races. I see no reason to buy sticky track tires. I’ll see what I can get in the 300 treadwear range. A little stickier than the Direzzas, but should last a good long time if I use them only for track days.

The Video

When I’m searching through YouTube for track videos, I tend to whine if they don’t have any gauges, track map, or timer. So I’m being a naughty boy by not having any gauges or a map in this day’s highlight reel. And it only has a lap timer because you can see it on my phone.

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.