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.