Monday, June 8, 2015

It’ll Buff Out

I’m headed into Turn 18 – the left-hander before the long, uphill straight. My brain has convinced my body that this time I could drive a little deeper and accelerate a little sooner. I waited a split second too long before coming off the gas, so I was at the turn-in cone before I’d suitably whoa’d the car. I cranked the wheel to the left, and the tires squealed in objection as I tried to get the front end close to the apex cone. Right then I felt the rear of the car start to slide out. I’d overcooked it. I spun the steering wheel to the right to try and catch the spin. The car went into the grass at about a thirty degree angle to the track. After taking out a two-foot high sign, I finally got the car pointed straight. Rather than going back on-track, I bounced through the lawn to the nearby pit entrance to get the car checked. As I passed a spectator, he yelled out, “Get that guy a new pair of shorts.” Such was my one and only four wheel foray into the agricultural side of this NECC high-speed driving event, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

To begin at the beginning, my wonderful weekend started with a Friday afternoon drive to Cobleskill, NY that, thanks to construction and idiot drivers, took over six-and-half hours. My ‘vair-buddy Jonathan with his trailered Corsa and I caravanned up there and we rolled into the hotel’s parking lot right around 6:30. Hoping to find a tech inspector to check out our cars, we soon found out that they’d gone inside to get ready for dinner. So we checked in, dumped our luggage in our room, and headed to the lobby where a dozen or so Corvair folks awaited the supper call. All of us then trooped past the pool, through the restaurant and bar, and into the attached bowling alley (it was the only space they had that could accommodate all of us for the meal). A lively time of good food, great beer and even better conversation ensued.

The next morning a six AM alarm and rain greeted us. assured us the day would not be a washout and we’d be seeing zero percent precipitation by 9 AM. We made the forty-five minute drive to the track over bumpy New York backroads and parked in the paddock behind a guy backing his Maserati out of a trailer. We then got our cars inspected with both passing – although Jonathan’s required a replacement lightbulb to get both brake lights to come on. After sitting through the efficiently-run driver’s meeting where it was announced there’d be three hot laps, rather than two, I checked the lists posted on the wall and discovered I had been placed in Group B for the initial track session. That gave me time to mooch a couple donuts from Jonathan, grab my video camera, and stroll through the paddock to record all the participating vehicles.

Finally, the call went out for Group B drivers to get lined up. I climbed in to Glinda, put on my helmet, and buckled up. Glinda’s engine fired right up and we rolled through the paddock to take our place near the track entrance. At roughly twenty second intervals the cars were sent out onto the track for a couple low-speed yellow flag laps. Once the yellow flags were stowed by the corner workers, we could run at speed. This first session was for learning the track, not for pushing our cars hard, and the twenty minutes had flown by when the checkered flags started flying to get us off the track so the last group could go on.

After Group C had their turn, it was open track for everyone, and I wasted no time getting back out. I have no idea how many 2.1 mile laps I put in before the lunchtime shutdown at noon. During my time on the track, I experienced something new - turning laps faster than other cars. This was happening even though the engine was still not pulling hard at high rpm. So, even though I couldn’t top 70 on the long straight, I was making up for that on the rest of the track. The way the circuit is setup – a very long, uphill front stretch followed by mostly downhill and level turns – masked the lack of power, and Glinda was handling exceptionally well – great grip getting me through the turns and brakes that would test the strength of my five-point harness. I guess my reign as the keeper of the STD (slow time of the day) has come to an end.

During the lunch hour, one of the track operators took us on an informative tour of the track. A bunch of the drivers piled into an open trailer and we were slowly towed around the circuit. At each turn, the guy thoroughly explained how we should be driving through that corner. He really tried to impress upon us that taking straight lines was far faster than swooping (making the turn longer by rounding it off). He liked the word “swooping” using it at least ten times, but it got my attention.

After lunch there was about an hour more free track time during which I tried hard to remember all the instructions I’d been given during the trailer ride and felt like I was really pushing the car. It was during this session the aforementioned agricultural adventure took place. Thankfully Glinda survived that folly undamaged.

We were flagged off the track around two so the timed laps could begin. I took a short break to let the tires and me cool down before getting in line for my turn. Even though I try to tell myself to just drive the timed laps like I’d driven the practice ones, there’s still a little more adrenaline flowing when I know I’m under the clock.

When it was my turn to be one of the two cars on track – my heart rate was up a bit as I took the warm-up lap. In third gear and trying to maximize my straightaway speed, I did my best to nail Turn 18 and then kept the pedal to the metal shifting into fourth as the tach showed 4000 rpm. Then, just past the one-hundred foot marker, I stomped on the brakes, shifted into third, let off the brake, and immediately steered left to negotiate Turn 1. At the apex cone, I was hard on the gas, aimed straight for the apex of Turn 2 and then making a beeline for the drift-out cone on the track’s right edge. I waited a little too long to nail the brakes prior to the first of the two Turn 3 apexes, so I drifted out a little too far adding precious time to my lap. Hard on the gas I carved past the second apex marker and drifted out to the left edge of the track. Turn 4 isn’t anything more than a slight kink, but Turn 5 is the first of two turns that are basically one sweeping hairpin. Aimed right at the turn-in cone, I got on the brakes and turned left. Once I hit the apex for 5, I floored it through 6 and up a slight hill shifting into fourth as I crested at the Turn 7 slight right hander. I was still WOT through Turn 8, but let off the gas as I neared the turn-in for Turn 9. Trying to keep to the right after passing 9’s apex, I shifted back into third, nailed the gas, and headed for the Turn 10 apex. For me, it took some fortitude, but I kept the hammer down through 11 and headed straight for 12’s turn-in cone. Hard on the brakes– almost to the point of lock-up - before going through the long, tight right-hander. Following instruction, just at 12’s apex I went WOT and turned the wheel from right to left to head straight for the apex of 13. After which I was again hard on the brakes to negotiate 14 which, for me, felt like the slowest corner on the track. Coasting through a slight right-hander I then floored it as I passed the apex of Turn 15, drifting dangerously close to the gravel as I began my favorite section of the track. If I could come out of 15 correctly, the beginning of 16’s ess-turn could almost be taken straight and the left-hander that completes the turn has just enough camber for carving hard through it. 17 is just a flick to the right, but 18 needed my full attention to have the most momentum to battle the runway-length main stretch.

As I mentioned, Turn 3 stole time from lap number one, and it was Turn 12 that bit me on the second lap. I pushed too hard and couldn’t make the apex which ruined my entrance into 13. At that point I was grateful for that additional hot lap which I ended up running mistake-free. I did, however, ease through that last turn not wanting to ruin the otherwise good lap.

As I’d expected, my lowest time came on my last hot lap – 2:03.85. While that wasn’t good enough to beat the other car in my class – the ALWAYS fast Brett Aston – it did put me right in the middle of the eighteen timed drivers. , I even came out ahead of some more powerful cars [some 140 HP Corvairs and some higher-rated water-pumpers (non-Corvairs)].

After everyone had their chances to race against the clock, it was open track again, and I took full advantage of it. I must’ve done at least another dozen laps when a basically empty gas tank forced me to head for the paddock. I’m sure the huge smile was still on my face as I was hooking Glinda back up to the truck.

Dinner at a local Italian restaurant and the nightcap in hotel’s bar were made better by great conversation. I’m trying to figure out if there’s any way I can make it to the next event – New Jersey Motorsports Park – in August. The issue is the Monday it’ll be run is my second day of vacation with the family. Just not looking good.

Thankfully, the drive home Sunday morning was basically traffic-free and uneventful for both Jonathan and I – a good way to end a great weekend.

By the way, the title of this missive – It’ll Buff Out – came about when the lovely Loriann saw the scuffs on Glinda’s right side - incurred when I’d taken out the off-track sign. Oh yeah, one other thing. The tools never came out of the bag the entire weekend - TYL.

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