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.


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