Monday, June 28, 2010

Warm Up Laps

Sheri and I went to Harris Hill Road for a Driver's Edge track event this weekend. I went to practice, because more seat time is better. Sheri was breaking in her new black Vette and learning to shift a manual transmission under track conditions.

We also need to get used to the heat.

It was 97 on Saturday and Sunday was hotter. That sort of heat is quite something for a 40+ out of shape person. It erodes your timing, clouds your judgement. You drink water all day, and it's just enough to keep hydrated.

In short, if you want to drive in the heat, you need to warm up to do it. So we did.

We were joined by Phil Holland from AT&T. It was his first event in his new Lotus Elise, and he had a blast. Roger Wong came out and took pictures. Our nephew, Nic Graner, helped change tires, load and unload the truck and was a good assistant all day.

I spent most of the weekend chasing a black 997 GT3RS around. The driver was good, probably the third best 997 driver I've met. We traded leads in the red run group often; no one else was close. As I was loading up, the Porsche guy found me and let me know that he had turned a new personal best lap, chasing me around. I told him that we would race again, when the track was fixed.

Harris Hill has always suffered from roughness issues. It's critically bad now. There's a section of one straight coned off because of a dip, and the bumps through one of the big left sweepers are so bad that you need to take a non-optimal line to avoid getting shaken to pieces. The owners are supposed to fix it this summer, but I think it's time to start now!

Those bumps did in Sheri's new car. Both eccentric bolts on the rear of the Corvette were shifted after Saturday. I managed to eyeball align it enough to drive, but there was no way it was race worthy, so she had to sit out Sunday. Other than the alignment issues, the car did well.

I also got to take a record number of passengers. Three of my runs on Sunday were with a passenger. One guy remarked, as we were cooling the car off: "When I grow up, I want to be just like you!" At least nobody got sick in the car.

The blue car ran flawlessly. The Hoosiers, new tires at Hallett, are getting a little slower. Not bad, but I'll replace them before the next NASA event. If they have enough left, I'll swap them onto Sheri's wheels and she can finish them off. I've got two new ones waiting, and I'll buy two more, hoping for a win at TWS in July to get me four more. The car is still leaking oil, but it's not getting any worse. If it'll hold together for one more event, I'll have time to tear down the motor and get my power back.

I'm still getting faster. I'm wondering where it will stop. I expect that at some point, I'll get old enough that I'll start to slow down. I suppose that has to happen, but I'm not seeing it yet.

Overall, it was a good practice weekend. I was not worrying about times, just driving and thinking about driving. I ended up at home Sunday relaxed if a bit sore in the hands (much wrenching getting two cars track ready and fixing alignment issues on Sunday between sessions).

Monday, June 21, 2010

Back from Hallett

Hallett is remote.
Hallett does not have garages.
Hallett is a long drive.

Thing is, once you go, you can't wait to go back.

Part of it is the track. It's short, but well laid out, settled in the Oklahoma hills. Yes, Oklahoma has hills. Who knew?

It's not hard on brakes, has smooth corners and rough (so you can't set your suspension up for either, really) and is managed by Connie Stephens and her family.

The signature turn at Hallett is The Bitch. It's a complex of turns that leads to a straight, and it also passes you through two hills and the little draw between them. You enter a climbing left sweeper, clip a curb on the left, then on the right, then hit the top of the hill (where you really need to be turning, but you have no grip), plunge down into the draw, brake like mad for the right turn up out of the hole (which has a blind exit) and turn up the slope enough to compress your suspension so your car doesn't spin out in the extremely tight turn. Then you accelerate down the straight, wondering if you could do that better next lap.

It is a real bitch to do right.

I drove up with John and Patty, following their RV. We took off Thursday night, slept on the road and drove in Friday in time to get a couple of practice laps. It's been two years since either of us were here, and we're rusty. I had forgotten about how to do the back section of the course, but it came back to me.

Saturday morning, we woke up to the chickens. Connie plays "In The Mood" at 0700, but sung by chickens. It's one of the little touches that makes Hallett so fun. We drag out of bed and get to the drivers meeting, then rapidly out on track. Time Trial is the first group out.

It's a big group. Hallett is the longest drive of the season, even for the Dallas crew. We have 17 people! It's a hoot. Kong Chang in his LS powered RX7 spins in the first turn, trying to get the jump on a Ferrari. Both TTS Porsche spin the the hairpin. I go two off in the back section, and spray rocks all over the track, but hold it together. It's a good run, and we can all see where the improvements need to be.

Second session, John goes into a tire barrier, hard. In six years of racing together, neither of us has hit anything like that, but it's his turn today. His pewter Corvette goes off track in the Bitch, and slams driver's side into the air barrier, then the tires. The barrier catches his car, rotates the nose into the barrier, then pitches the whole thing into the air. The car rotates, thinks about flipping over, then falls back to earth on top of a barrier piece, which catches on fire from the hot exhaust pipes. John is signaling thumbs up, but doesn't know about the fire.

Hallett has top flight safety crews, and they know where folks go off. They are on top of the car in a few seconds, and put out the barrier fire. It takes two tow trucks to get the car out, and tow it back to the paddock. I cool my car off and pit, ready to help with the damage.

It's not as bad as all that. One wheel badly out of toe, and every body panel save the trunk lid and one rear quarter have rips and cracks. Driver's window won't work.

We effect repairs. John missed one session, and was back out that day. Kudos to him for getting back on the horse.

The video guy comes around as we're working on the car. He tells John that he's got the whole crash on slow-motion video, just by luck. He asks formally if it's OK to show to other people, as some folks are sensitive to such things. John, distracted and working, waves him off and says sure, no problem. The vid plays as part of a loop in the club house for the rest of the weekend. John gets his 15 minutes of fame!

I do pretty well. I'm chasing Kong Chang around, and a TTA Porsche that gets reclassed into TTS. I end up faster than everyone except the TTU guys and Kong. I've won a tire! Huzzah!

That night, the Camaro/Mustang challenge guys put on a party. BBQ, cold Fat Tire, and frozen margaritas. Everyone is invited, and I watch racers get drunk. It's pretty funny. After a while, someone breaks out a laptop and a projector and starts showing race video on the side of a trailer. The corner worker staff and to truck guys are unhappy with the weedy margarita machine and break out a gas powered blender with handlebars for extra stability. Good times. Bed at midnight for me, as I want to see about turning a faster time on Sunday.

Sunday was fun. I got faster. I came within a few hundredths of Kong Chang, but could not catch him. It rained for one session, and I took the opportunity to practice in the wet. I was almost ten seconds faster than anyone else under wet conditions, on slicks. I'm getting the hang of the rain driving thing. I end up getting second place, but still in the tires, so I can claim two for the weekend. That makes it roughly a break even for me.

Then we start the long drive home. I sure hope NASA comes back to Hallett next year, because it's a nifty track. It feels good, in a different way than other places that race cars. It's older too, by several decades. Maybe that's why. Or perhaps it's Connie, who always tells us on the PA when there is ice cream in the concession stand.

I highly recommend going there if you can.