The venue: A massive race track in upstate New York known to literally tens of people.
The ride of choice: A snorting, snarling beast. A lightly modified 1996 Mazda Miata riding on the finest all season tires. Seriously, where do you even find Capitol brand tires??
The day: It was sunny and described by the local weatherman as fucking hot. For once, he was right.
Plan A was to ride out in a friends Z06 and then not take it on the track. But, since mister weather dude said also that it would likely rain at some point during the day, we opted for his lovely CX-5. Plan B isn’t so bad sometimes! It’s quiet and comfortable. The Vette...not so much. The roads leading to the track are open and boring and the path to the track is little more than a farm track and I’m guessing the owner of the car would’ve been unimpressed with having to scrape and weave his way down anyway. I was feeling queasy the whole drive out there too - which would likely have been exaggerated had we been sitting lower and bouncing around a lot more. Thankfully that stopped once on-site as sullying the new helmet would’ve made for a bad time.
This is basically a time trial style event at a .75 mile road course circuit designed originally for go karts. One car enters the track as the previous car exits and your “run” consists of a warm up lap, 3 timed runs and a cool off lap to let the brakes and tires relax before you get back into the pits.
This was day 2 of 2. Apparently day 1 was a little hairy. A Subaru bearing had spun, a hand-built car refused to run, some damage occurred, and the snorting, snarling beast I was slated to drive for the day had a Miata-to-Deer interface incompatibility during the mornings’ coffee run. Thankfully, the extent of the damage can be seen below.
We arrived early in the morning to the sound of revving engine and squealing tires. The fun has already begun! My brothers first run had already been completed and his times were hovering around the 64 second mark. After the hand-made car which sounded to be powered by a bike engine sputtered to a halt on it’s warm up lap after spending all day Saturday under the knife, I got in the Miata and lined up.
Here we go, first run in two years! Warm up lap completed. Foot down along the front straight and into third. Hold it for a few more seconds, first corner is coming fast, it’s a tricky chicane. Brake hard, heel-toe into second, release the clutch, begin to turn in...full front lockup. Ohh right, all-season tires. Let off the brakes just in time to not spear off into the wet grass. Well, that lap is out. We’ll just call that a practice lap and I made a note to double check the tire pressures with a digital gauge this time.
Second try, much better. Third lap goes without incident. It felt good. 66 seconds. Damn. This is not a big track, 2 seconds is an eternity.
Here’s video of the first run. Sorry about the bad camera angle - first time using the roll bar clamp...guess I need to find a way to mount it higher.
I pulled in to let some other cars have a turn. In the “paddock” is a couple of WRX’s (it is New England after all) and a couple Miata’s (it is a Motorsport type event, after all). But, aside from that are two newer Audi TT’s, a 2015 Mazda3, a Neon, a pinto-powered Lotus Seven kit car, an old BMW 5-Series, and a couple Toyobarus (BR-Z is the new Miata). Not a bad turn out for an event that’s at least 3 hours away from everyone involved.
Eventually the time came for me to line up again. I asked my friend if he wants to tag along. Since that was his entire reason for waking up at the ass-crack of dawn to come out here, he said sure! It was his first time coming to anything like this.
The three runs went pretty easily though I think there are new grip marks on the passenger door pull. My time stay around 66 seconds. This time I had a passenger so I had an excuse!
Here’s what that looked like:
In talking with my brother and having ridden with him in the past, I think I know where the time difference is. The Miata is set up very nicely for the chicane. Even on the shittiest tires in any paddock in the country, I can carry more speed through there than I was. I’m also slowing down to much coming into the last corner as I head onto the main straight.
It was time for my third run and probably the last set of timed laps. I took a deep breath as my passenger strapped in and mumbled to myself: more speed in the chicane. The camera won’t turn back on. The ridiculous heat has cooked it. Ohh well, no video I guess. Less braking at the end of the straight, more throttle through the chicane. Locked up again afterwards braking into the next corner and pushed wide at the second to last, but even still the result was a 65 second lap. Who would’ve thought - if you go faster, the lap time might be lower. Physics is a strange beast. I had one more lap left, come to the first braking point but the pedal felt soft. Hadn’t done it all day and I’m not sure it had done it since, but, I was now nowhere near set up for the chicane. Another lap wasted. Since the car isn’t mine and needs to make the 3.5hr drive home, I bailed. I’ll get him next time. Either way, I was within a second of him while being a heavier guy with a passenger in a lap that included two poorly taken corners, I’ll take it.
I don’t know where the racing-driver excuses come from. They must be ingrained in the very fiber of our beings. Part of our DNA. We are men. We are better than that other guy. It’s not our fault we came up short. It MUST be something else.
Whether I beat him or not, it was still a day at the track and the car he drove out in was still in one piece for the ride home...so that’s a win. As a result, another person has also caught the bug, so hopefully we’ll see him in a helmet in the driver’s seat someday!
I didn’t end up taking many pictures and neither did the rest of my entourage. But, here’s a big pile of them taken by another patron!
Update: The St. Lawrence Motorsports Park has since changed ownership and the new guys aren’t keen on having cars on the track at all, so, maybe I won’t get him next time!! Sad Christmas.
Ohh, shit. I nearly forgot! Track day, bro! Literally in this case.