Friday, August 31, 2012

Hot August Nights!




With August’s oppressive heat bearing down on us it was good to be able to take the RV to the track. Readers may recall that in my last post I complained bitterly about not having the RV with us, writing about how we had to suck it in and take the 105+ temperatures as best as we could. And this was just two weeks prior to our return for this weekend, early in August. While fortunately the temperature didn’t return to these levels it was still extremely hot, and being able to retreat to the cool, air-conditioned, Pyalla Technologies Track Days command center made the outing enjoyable. The weekend’s activities would be centered on the National Auto Sport Association (NASA) Rocky Mountain Region event and to prepare ourselves we elected to arrive early Friday morning to take advantage of an open lapping day and the picture above is of me, the red Corvette and the RV.

The High Plains Raceway (HPR), to the east of Byers, Colorado, has now become our “home circuit” that both Margo and I have already visited four or five times, and where Margo has really blossomed from having enjoyed a lot of seat time behind the wheel, coming to terms with the many turns this circuit provides. Settling into the red C5 Z06 Vette and becoming more familiar with its manual transmission has given Margo a lot more confidence and her pace around the circuit has improved almost out of sight this year. Each time she returns to the pits, she has more questions as she looks to better understand how to propel the red Vette smoothly up and around a track that has been carved into a small ravine.

This weekend is circled very early in the year as it is the time when our friends from Simi Valley, Brian and Jan Kenny, join us for the festivities. And with the RV available for our time at the track we would be overnighting with them and enjoying the benefits from camping right alongside the track. This wasn’t their first trip to Colorado, but it would be the very first time that they would trailer their own track-ready Corvette, another red Vette, but a highly modified C6 coupe. In the past they had relied on either a “loaner car” that we provided them or their red Vette (but in street trim with street tires and brakes) and it had been the plan for some time to check out just how well the track-ready red Vette would perform and as the cars were unloaded from the trailers early Friday morning, Brian’s expectations were already easily readable on his face. He just wanted to go fast!





The plan had always been for Margo to take the car for the morning, with me taking over for the hotter part of the day. And that this would be all the time I would have behind the wheel for the weekend. Having registered to participate in NASA Rocky Mountain Region’s HPDE 3 sessions for the Saturday, only the week before the event was to be held the association returned my money and precluded me from any participation in the event. It had been the very same event last year where I had been very disappointed in my own performance, and unfortunately, my disquiet over my underachievement of the day flowed into late night emails that I just shouldn’t have sent. So, no, I wasn’t welcome at this year’s event.

Much to my surprise on arriving on the Friday, an open lapping day, I found that my disqualification from participating in the NASA event also included the Friday, and no matter how strongly I appealed to HPR’s management, there was little they could do to help me. The NASA requirements were firm – the track would only be open to those participating in the sessions on Saturday and Sunday. This would now be a weekend where I would be assisting Margo as she gained even more seat time. The picture above is of me, making final adjustments to her seat belt harness prior to her first outing on Friday. The car  looked well-prepared and the recently installed brakes were certainly proving to be a worthy upgrade, and yet, relegated to playing a supporting role just didn’t sit well with me watching, as I had to, everyone else enjoying the day!                                                                                             

Brian and Jan shared in my sense of loss – this was an unexpected turn of events. As much as I love to be out on track, particularly when it’s an open lapping session as is often the case with Friday’s, taking on the role of “wrench-hand” relegated to torqueing the wheels, checking tire pressures, and releasing the seat belt straps (and making sure, too, that plenty of fluids were on hand as Margo returned to the pits) wasn’t what I had been looking forward to and yet, there was no one else I could turn to and point a finger at; there’s just those times when you know you had behaved badly and when it comes to being on track, there’s little tolerance for anyone who isn’t prepared to play by the rules.
Apart from Brian and Jan joining us for the weekend at HPR, we had also extended an invitation to a client of Pyalla Technologies, comForte, a well-known software vendor within the HP NonStop community. Brad Poole, who lives nearby and with whom Margo and I had worked back at Tandem Computers, Insession, and then again at ACI Worldwide, decided to visit us to see just what really goes on during these track sessions and he brought with him his camera. Over the years, Brad has documented many of the activities Margo and I have undertaken and photos he has taken of us are liberally sprinkled through many of the business postings that I have made to the NonStop community blog, Real Time View. It’s hard to miss the T Shirt Brad is wearing – yes, we were all wearing them (even Brian and Jan) - as they were the “Fools for NonStop” T Shirts we had made for the recent HP Discover 2012 event in Las Vegas, and with Pyalla Technologies the major sponsor, they seemed to be the appropriate clothing as we entertained some of our favorite clients.

The picture above is of an early morning session, Friday, with Margo behind the wheel while I occupied the passenger seat. The surprise for me was just how quickly Margo came up to speed and just how much she had retained from our previous outing just two weeks earlier. There were a few nervous moments on the opening laps as lines were adjusted and turn-in points recalled, but it was all very impressive driving by Margo after just a few laps. For the third session of the morning, Brad put his camera to one side and donning a spare crash helmet we brought with us – one we think was left behind by our good friend and former colleague, Andrew Price - and set out with Margo to taste firsthand what it was like to be behind the glass of a fast-moving Vette laying down laps on a race track.

One small point to make, but well worth mentioning it all the same,  Margo had been Brad’s manager on more than one occasion and I have to believe, all those years ago, he never thought he would be sitting alongside Margo as she piloted the track car. It wasn’t as much bravery on Brad’s part as it was curiosity. For several years Brad had tolerated many an evening dinner as Margo and I talked of our track experiences and I have to believe that at some point Brad must have thought “enough, already”, and given some consideration to experiencing for himself, first hand, just a little of what it is like to have the limits of daily driving removed. I would have given anything to have been in a back seat for those early laps as Margo hurtled down the back straight at over 120 mph.

As the day progressed, the more Margo really enjoyed her time on the track. On the Friday, the lack of really good clutch fluids in the car gave her some problems with the clutch pedal itself as a couple of times the clutch pedal wouldn’t return from off of the firewall and she was left between gears. But Margo stuck with it and worked out how to compensate and typically, following a couple of slower laps, the temperatures dropped and all was well again. On one occasion Brad was in the car with her and at no time did Margo do anything to unsettle either him or the car simply dealing with it and working her way through the problem. No, there were never any reports of Margo throwing both hands in the air or pulling off the track – she was just enjoying the day way too much to do anything like that.

The picture above is of Margo crossing the start / finish line, right in front of the hot pits and across from the paddock where everyone sets up camp. At this point, Margo is on the gas and her speed is somewhere between 80 and 90 mph as she heads towards the high-speed turn, one that rewards those drivers prepared to maintain speed through the turn – something Margo has now proven adept at doing. With 16 to 20 sessions (and almost 200 laps) behind the wheel it came as no surprise that when Saturday arrived, Margo pulled onto the track for the very first session with far more confidence than I had ever seen of her in the past.

Whereas former sessions at tracks in other parts of the country, rather than focusing on ensuring other participants were enjoying themselves, giving them point byes at every opportunity, Margo this weekend was all business - head down, eyes up and very focused on her lines. And her improved performance was evident to all who watched her completing yet another lap. ON track with Margo had been Jan driving the much more potent track-prepared C6 Vette coupe and she too had been all business except in her case, she was doing her utmost to ensure nothing happened to the car that would in any way take away from Brian’s enjoyment on the Saturday. It was certainly a very observable case of running eight tenths whenever Jan was on track!

My fall from grace last year came about as I endeavored to qualify for running in HPDE 3. After four years with NASA, two each in HPDE 1 and 2 I was looking forward to moving up the ranks. Participating with other clubs I felt comfortable driving in their more advanced groups and having experienced track sessions shared with real racers on open lapping days, not to mention the full day on track at Germany’s famous Nurburgring, I believed the time was more than right to move to the next level. However, that outing twelve months ago proved disastrous as I made just about every rookie mistake possible, blaming everyone else but myself in the heat of the moment. With this in mind, it was rather pleasing to hear how those watching Margo’s performance this Saturday came to her suggesting she take an instructor with her for the closing session – only to be told that with her performance on the day, at this track she was borderline ready for consideration to drive in HPDE 3! “Just continue a little deeper into a couple of the turns,” said the instructor, “and lift your speed just a tad more” was how I recall Margo explaining all the advice she was given following a session with the instructor.

As for Brian and Jan, their red Vette (it’s just a coupe, mind you) really took to the track. I was able to ride with Brian a couple of times (indeed, as did Brad Poole) and the difference between our two different generation Vettes was remarkable. While I have no real idea what times Margo and I record, Brian keeps a very careful eye on his times to ensure “improvements” are being made all the time. In the past, Brian had never really enjoyed driving at ten tenths, holding a lot back in reserve either because the car wasn’t his or because the car he brought wasn’t truly track prepared, but this wasn’t the case this weekend and he was able to drop down into the 2 minutes 5 second range. Pretty good and gauging on how it felt, a good ten to fifteen seconds better than what either Margo or I was capable of recording.

But more importantly, and a lot more relevant, Brian and Jan have really taken to this place and Margo and I know that when it’s time to pull the calendars out and look at what we all will be doing in 2013, they will be back for another weekend. Looking at this final picture snapped while we were at the track, all I can think of is the David Bowie song “All the young dudes” – well, maybe. We have our BBQ, our Eskie (as in “let´s skull another VB from the eskie!” for all non-Australians that are reading this post), the cars locked up for the night, and while the scene above may look serene, Brian was hard at it grilling some of he best slow-cooked country-style boneless pork ribs. It’s a shot taken Friday night by Brad as from the drink Brian is holding (and no, it’s not an Apple-tini), it’s a soda as he is headed out onto the track the next day. But having our home on wheels has certainly changed the whole perspective on weekends at the track.

August nights are hot in Colorado and with the recent fires the rest of the world has become more familiar with the carnage that can so quickly envelope our front-range communities. The seasons quickly change, and even as we now contemplate the imminent arrival of fall, and wonder how many more weekends we will have before the snows finally descend, long hot evenings spent at campsites surrounded by race cars is certainly an intoxicating mix. And yes, I am going to have to do something about the clutch fluids – it’s just so hot out on the track and being left without a gear is never a nice experience. I have to work on building fences with the NASA team as well, and hopefully we can come to some understanding in the future. After all, it was all my fault with words hastily spoken in the heat of the moment. A very hot August night!