Despite dating for two years, my loving partner Louisa had yet to see first hand what it is that happens when I go to the track. That may not sound too strange at first, people have different hobbies, and some couples are very much fine keeping their hobbies seperate. However, that doesn’t really fly due to Louisa’s inquisitiveness.
“Well, just come to my next track day.” My next event was a few months out, near the end of summer, when hopefully, the temperatures would begin to subside. With most of them being in the desert, Southern California race tracks are all brutal during the summer. Temperatures regularly exceed 100*F, and clouds, shade or indeed any sort of relief are few and far between.
This was all well and dandy until the end of June when my good friend, and fellow Hoon, Mika told me that he was going to Streets of Willow during the first week of July, and asked if I wanted to go.
“Eh, it’s gonna be hot...”
“I’m bringing Katie.”
The light bulb illuminated. Louisa had wanted to go on a double date with the two of them, and she wanted to see what the track was all about. After some cajoling, Louisa was in. Since the four of us would all be rolling up together, we booked a hotel to stay near the track so we could get some decent rest the night before.
The evening of the 4th, stopping for dinner.
Provided you’re following along, you may have realized that “the first weekend of July” is the 4th of July ‘Murica-Freedom-Pride-Explosion-Red-White-and-Blue Festival weekend. That’s how it came to be that on the night of the 4th of July, we made the 120 mile trip to central California, stopping just short of the Mojave at our over night halt. Along the way, we drove through celebratory showers of fireworks as we passed by each town participating in their right to blow things up in a majestic streaming of red, white and blue. The views were especially impressive upon entering the Antelope Valley region, where civilization begins to thin, and the natural backdrop of rolling mountains towering over the lowlands reflect the light of the fireworks. Nature’s version of an epic projector flat screen, if you will. Speaking of ifs, if you have to make the drive, this is the way to do it.
Mika took the initiative of finding and booking out hotel, saying he had points to use. Just North of Lancaster, CA we arrived into town, and found out that we had arrived to an overwhelming sea of people, out in the middle of the desert. After double checking our location on the map, and confirming that we weren’t at Burning Man, we slowly waded our cars through the masses of people, until we arrived at the (totally booked) hotel. Some massive softball tournament had rolled into town and took over everything. Whenever you drive to Willow Springs from Southern California, you pass by here, it’s almost always a ghost town, as such the transformation was staggering.
Also crossed 39,000 miles on this trip.
The next morning, we made the quick 15 minute drive from the hotel to Rosamond, California, home to dust, dirt, Edwards Air Force Base, and Willow Springs International Raceway.
After unpacking, readying the cars, giving a primer to the girls about what to expect with the day, and attending the driver’s meeting, we were cut loose and ready to go.
The weather was a balmy 95*F Fahrenheit, with a good amount of traffic, and it was the first session of the day. I took the time to shake off some cobwebs, while at the same time acknowledging that it was only going to get hotter today.
If you think this video seems short, that is because it is. We didn’t even make it through the first session without running into issues:
The car was idling poorly and wouldn’t make boost. I’m not a genius, but this car obviously had a vacuum leak. I pitted immediately and began troubleshooting. My CEL was on, so I ran the codes and came back, unsurprisingly with underboost codes (i.e. the car was failing to hit target boost).
Fortunately, I had the support of these two, who readily sprang into action to help, by springing themselves right back into their comfy chairs to watch me toil on the hot pavement.
I suppose I should have expected this. Misery makes headlines, and it’s much more fun to watch someone scold themselves under a hot car than to do the same yourself.
- Checked the intercooler piping.
- Disassembled and checked the chargepipe from intercooler to the throttle body.
- Disassembled and reassmbled the intakes.
- Checked all vacuum lines.
Sidebar: There is no such thing as “cold side” intercooler piping when it’s 100 degrees outside. It all burned in an equally painful manner.
I eventually found two small (1/8”) vacuum lines that were loose, as well as worn caps from my DIY $2 Blow Off Valve Mod, which had withered from age to the point of being a minor boost leak source...
As a result of this unplanned wrenching, session 2 looked something like this:
I was buttoning the car up as everyone was heading out for more fun. I took the time to drive around the paddock, and area outside of the track to see if everything was peachy. The car still seemed laggy, but it was building boost. In retrospect, brutally high intake temps could have affected early onset boost building.
So, the first session had been cut short, and I missed the entirety of the second session. I found solace when I actually took a look at my lap times from the first session.
1:30.9, a new personal best!
It would have been even faster if I didn’t have to lift in the five seconds preceding the video to let that STi pass me. How much pace did I compromise by not being flat out there? Who knows...
We had reached 105 degrees outside. There were no clouds, and the heat was starting to get to us all. This manifested in me failing to turn the GoPro on for the third session.
Here are some pictures instead. Make the appropriate vroom vroom noises, as you see fit.
This was all well and good, until again, about 10 minutes in, the car lost all power. Today was just not my day. Water temps were right at 205, which is normal, but oil was quite warm at 300*F, right at the limp mode threshold. I tried to back off a bit mid-lap, but it was too late. Predictably, the car limped, and would not rev over 5000rpm. I pitted again, did a “cool down lap” around the paddock for a few minutes, popped the hood and let the car cool off.
After starting the car up, the idle sounded off. The car didn’t seem right. I left the facility and got onto one of deserted roads in the middle of the desert, a safe place to mess around with the car. It was still slow to come into full boost, and acceleration was soft. The car didn’t want to make even the stock 8psi until quite late in the powerband. A hard shift from 2nd to 3rd resulted in throttle closures and a lot of bogging. No check engine light though...
The 3 Liter Heater was not amused.
With limited options comes a short term solution: California’s “91” octane piss water does not play well turbocharged engines, and especially not under these conditions. How about a 1/4 tank of 100 octane unleaded race gas? Every track I’ve been to seems to sell race gas by the pump, so let’s see what a few gallons of 100 does for the old girl.
Back out on the country roads, I did a few 2nd and 3rd gear pulls. Issue...fixed? Let’s roll with it!
Session 3 netted a 1:31.3, 4/10th slower than the first session, the temperatures were truly too hot to go any faster.
Do you know what we were just in time for? Parade laps. My girlfriend got to gear up as we whipped around the track. My girlfriend was on track with me, how surreal. With a speed limit of “use your best judgement,” she was able to experience getting sucked into and shot out of the bowl, blasting down the back straight, and feeling the deeply cut sweepers, and elevation changes that make all of the Willow Springs tracks so much fun. Even at a less-than-flatout pace, I think she was amused. Pushing a bit beyond my best judgment likely also contributed to the fun. If the track marshalls aren’t shaking the black flag at you, it’s probably fine.
I rationalized (for once!) that going faster was out of the question for the day, it was almost 110*F now, it just wasn’t going to happen. Instead, I decided to focus on having fun out there. What a novel concept. Fun. Interesting. Well, the GoPro had died anyway, so there wouldn’t be any YouTube Internet Warrior Glory, even if I ran a 1:25. Screw it.
Traffic had thinned out, as people got sick of the heat and left. It wasn’t clear enough to set any hot laps with bravery alone, but it did allow Mika and I to have some fun in the form of a little 5 lap dogfight.
We both went slower, in the mid-1:32’s, but we came back into the pits after actually making a full session, with big smiles on our faces.
The last session of the day. There’s always some small amount of optimism deep within that refuses to be trampled, with the thought of faster lap times in mind. Realistically, it wasn’t going to happen, but realism and optimism rarely see eye to eye. Sure, it was hotter than hell, but traffic had thinned even further. and maybe the car would play ball. My driving was a bit cleaner, but the high temps obviously kept power at bay. I ran a string on 1:31.1 laps, but I had no more left in me.
Despite that, I was happy. Between the Mojave being savagely hot, boost leaks, overheating, and setting a new-to-me FTD, I was able to share a bit of my madness with my girlfriend. Almost like a mini relationship bucketlist type thing, being able to check that box of “taking Louisa to a track day” felt like a milestone. I’m car-adled, and my brain can barely process non-car related thoughts, so bringing her into this felt like sharing a piece of my world with her. Also, she actually had a lot fun. In terms of unconventional double dates, this was a fun one, I don’t think any of us left without a few shiny, new fun stories to tell. Though, next time, it could be about 30 degrees cooler, and we wouldn’t mind.
But yes Internet, I was happy, happy that I was able to effectively troubleshoot on the fly and not let minor issues spoil the day. There’s something very rewarding about overcoming obstacles by being a persistent fool, and being able to drive the car home after a long day of hooning.
It had been a long day, and all that awaited us was more driving, about 120 miles worth to be exact. So, we packed up and hit the road. From one journey to the next, the road to adventure always awaits.
Jake Stumph is a track day bro, hooligan, and a second rate writer. He aspires to get paid to hoon cars, but has thus far been unsuccessful. He also aspires to make an unconventional choice for a track day car fast. He has found out that this is an expensive hobby to succeed in. He also finds writing in the third person to be uncomfortable. If you find his antics interesting, or amusing, you can follow him on Facebook, where he likes to complain about things, and make ill-advised commentary.