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.

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.