Monday, June 14, 2010

An exceedingly strange track weekend

This is gonna be long and probably boring. Sorry.

Last week was scramble time. I accomplished oil changes on the Miata, the truck, and even the Mazdaspeed 3. I changed plugs & wires on the truck, brakes & fluid on the Miata, and buttoned everything up just in time to haul down to VIR for the annual MazdaDrivers event on Grand East.

This is one of the only (if not in fact the only) events all year to use the Grand East configuration, which has 34 turns, a ton of elevation changes, and a glorious turn called The Bitch. It's a 4.2 mile lap that takes just under 3:30 to complete, and it's full of exciting challenges. It's also ungodly expensive because it takes a lot more staff to man the flag stations.

To offset that expense, I was excited about repeating the whole camping-in-the-trailer thing that I'd done last month at Summit Point, but I couldn't remember if there were electric drops in the paddock. So I sent an e-mail. HUGE mistake. VIR was willing to provide me a camping space for $50 / night, which is nuts because I don't need water hook-ups or any of that fancy crap. So I declined, but they forwarded my name to their head of security, so I knew they'd be on the look-out for me to be camping unauthorized. So I booked a hotel room. Boo. There goes another couple hundred dollars into this overpriced weekend.

So I got everything ready, came home early from work, kissed my boy, and hauled down to VIR in the 90+ temps. Smooth sailing all the way down, I'm rockin' out to good tunes, no cops in sight the whole way.

I get there, and there's a sign on the front gate: Electricity $25. DAMMIT! I just committed to $200 for a hotel that's 15 minutes from the track. Lesson learned: NEVER ASK PERMISSION. EVER.

Anyway, after unpacking my trailer, I find a list of driver/instructor pairings, whereupon I realize I've (once again) been bumped back down to the Intermediate group. In Intermediate, passing is only allowed on approved straight-aways. Not cool (and really boring, frankly). I got pissed off and sent a fiery email to the event coordinator.

Saturday morning I got the issue resolved to my relative satisfaction, met my instructor, and prepared to have a weekend full of awesome. Only it was not to be. After waiting more than 5 minutes for my instructor, I finally went looking for him. He was resting casually at his paddock space, thinking I was still running in the other group, which wasn't scheduled to be on track for another 30 minutes. As he was scrambling to get in the car, he smashed my rearview mirror with his helmet. Oops. My side was still intact, and I could see out the back, so we were ok.

And then I overdrove the car so badly he had to ask several times for me to keep it under control. I got passed all over the place. It sucked.

2nd session, I finally got things to settle down a bit, started to pick up the pace, and he told me afterward that he enjoyed the ride and would sign me off for solo. Yay! Good driving to come! Only not!

Just before the 3rd session of the day, high winds came rolling through. Everyone was advised to take down their tents and awnings and seek shelter immediately. This is no easy task when winds are already blowing above 30mph. Oh, and I was busily trying to swap to my rain tires because of bruised looking clouds on the horizon.

But the storm mostly blew over, and we got out on track for an abbreviated session. Yay?

For the 4th session, my rain tires were already on, and the rains finally came. Woohoo! It was wet. It was treacherous. It was FREAKIN' AWESOME. For about 2 laps, whereupon a silver M3 decided to attempt a barrel roll with predictable success. Black flag all, day over.

To make matters worse, the black flag came out right as I and another Miata were passing a corner station. The worker waved the flag at the Miata in front of me, and we both thought he was being flagged. He pulled way off line, slowed, and pointed me past. So I passed him. This upset the event coordinator, who wanted to have harsh words with me. Oh yeah? Bring it, fucker--I'm done with you anyway. He and the Chief Steward and I had a nice long talk about it, and the Chief Steward conceded that the flagging was not clear, and that there is technically no rule about passing under black. Mr. Coordinator-Fancy-Pants looked at the ground and tried to walk away, whereupon the Steward called him back to discuss the many things that MazdaDrivers do differently from EVERY OTHER CLUB, and how difficult it is for the VIR corner workers to keep up with the weirdness. Again: suck it, jerk.

Sunday began with an RX-8 missing a shift, slamming the wall on the front straight and spewing parts all over the place.

Then our first session came, and it was by far the best experience of the whole weekend.

2nd session, on the out lap (not under yellow, though) another BMW M3 felt inspired to go off in the exact same spot that the first one had done Saturday. Only he didn't flip. What he did do, though, was one of the dumbest things I've EVER seen a human being do: he got out of the car to see if it was damaged. On a hot race track with cars passing 20' from him, in an area known for spins. Black flag all. AGAIN.

3rd (and final--at least for me) session, I got stuck in a long train before finding another Spec Miata to play with. We were putting down some frickin' awesome laps before...another black flag all. Apparently a 'Vette overheated in the climbing esses, and the driver decided to hop out at the top of the hill to pop the hood.

Seriously, what the hell is wrong with these people? I know it's hot, but the lapses in judgment by far exceeded anything I've ever experienced at an HPDE. As a refresher: YOU NEVER GET OUT OF YOUR CAR ON A HOT TRACK UNLESS IT IS ON FIRE AND BURNING TO THE GROUND.

So that was fun. Then, as I'm packing everything up, another biblical storm comes and knocks out power to the trailer, where the temps climb quickly into the low 90's. Storm passes, I head out at 4pm. At 6:10, I'm climbing a hill and noticing that, not only is the truck slowing, it's overheating. A glance in the mirror shows huge plumes of smoke billowing from the driver-side trailer tires. Oh God.

Both tires are blown, one is obliterated. I have one spare, an a jack that's just strong enough to lift one side of the Miata. This won't end well.

In my haste to deal with it, I forget to leave the truck running. Strange noises begin emanating from the hood, but I'm in full-on panic mode, so I don't notice that for a couple of minutes. When I do, the truck wheezes back to life, runs terribly for a couple of minutes, and then settles back down as the coolant does its job.

Back to the tires...

I'm less than 1 inch from the paved surface of Rte 360, a busy highway, and no room between the trailer and the ditch on the other side. Just as the panic begins to get bad, I hear a dude whistling for my attention. Frank, as it turns out, lives right next to where I'd stopped, and just happens to be a tow-truck driver.

I told him my plight, and he told me that everyone seems to get flats right next to his home (and it's true--there were TONS of tire carcasses all over the place). He measured my bolt-pattern and came back with a very small wheel & tire that fit perfectly. He stood in the highway and directed traffic around me as I raised the trailer (after first taking the Miata out so that the jack wouldn't break). He helped put his wheel and my spare on, gave me good tips on where I could find air to get everything up to optimal pressures, and wished me good luck. He even helped re-pack the trailer. Frank is a fantastic man. If you ever break down 10 minutes south of Chula, ask for Frank. He'd give you the shirt off his back and ask for nothing in return.

Anyway, I got moving again, tried several times to stop and find someone to sell me tires--always without success--and eventually limped the whole thing home at about 35mph.

Incredulous that I'd made it to my driveway on Frank's badly dry-rotted tire, I parked the truck and sighed in relief...only to hear dripping. A quick check under the truck showed a river of oil.

So it wasn't the best weekend ever.


chezjack said...

But you DID get home safely, and that's the best part of all.

ahamos said...

Can't argue there. And I did get to squeeze a boy. Best moment of the whole weekend.

Daniel said...

Given the extent of your unfortunate weekend, I was expecting to read that once you pulled the Miata out of the trailer a cop decided to stop and inspect it as it was on (the shoulder of) a state road. After which he would have obviously written you up for multiple violations.

I'd like to think that Frank gets rewarded every day in life for being such a good stranger.h