Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Down to some serious business …

Following numerous references of late to smiles, it was all business this month. After an absence from the track of nearly six months, it was a case of picking up where we had left off last year. With the balmy days of late spring displacing the final throws of winter, it was good to be able to load up the company command center, hitch up the trailer, and load the track car. Once again, for 2014 track days, it would be the 2003 C5 Z06 Corvette providing all the excitement.

The Vette was starting its third year as the go-to track car and it’s proving to be a very good choice. Of any Vette you could choose, this one is the easiest to drive, the simplest to maintain, and the least difficult to clean and prepare. During the winter months, the ten years plus battery elected to literally explode and being a complete novice when it comes to replacing batteries after such a terminal occurrence, when I first went to investigate the problem, I swept aside all the water with my bare hands. First, there’s never really water lying about after a battery blows up and secondly, you should never touch anything in the engine bay without gloves on. It took several days for the burnt skin to recover but I guess it could have been a lot worse.

A new battery, a check of saved engine codes (it’s not at all helpful when you forget to turn-off the helpful electronic “nannies” and then expect one system to correct another as is likely to happen when you hurl a street car violently sideways and execute a perfect 180 degree turn) and an inspection of brake rotors and pads as well as the overall condition of the tires. The street tires mounted towards the end of 2012 are still providing excellent mechanical grip and show only marginal wear after some forty sessions on track. Unbelievable. If you must know, they are Bridgestone Potenza RE760 Sport and will set you back a tad over $700 – for a set of four from Tire Rack! The indicated treadware number is 340 – something you wouldn’t think twice about for a track tire but I have long since given up on what this actually translates to for these tires; grip is every bit as good as the Toyo R888s I once used on the blue Vette.  Again, unbelievable!

Friday open lapping track days usually attract a motley group of cars that often includes vehicles you wouldn’t be caught dead driving. However, this wasn’t the case this time as the red team arrived, or so it seemed. Parked end to end alongside one stretch of the paddock were a red Viper, Audi S5, Ferrari F458 and, missing from the photo, a red C7 Corvette. In the background, you may see the red Mustang that also made it to the track so it seemed only natural to park our rig adjacent to this group. They all sounded “racey” and they all looked the part but unfortunately, their time on track was limited to just a few sessions early in the day so I was unable to add an additional splash of red.

And there was a reason behind their fleeting appearance. Earlier in the week a tornado had touched down briefly just a few miles south of the track and the pattern for the week had seen violent thunderstorms appear each afternoon. However, lunchtime saw only light scattered clouds and with the track looking particularly clean, I didn’t give the weather a second thought. For me, it was a perfect afternoon with temperatures hovering in the high seventies, Fahrenheit. Making only slight adjustments to the tire pressures (at HPR, running clockwise, it’s always sensible to start out with less pressure in the left hand tires as you load up the left hand side with mostly right hand turns) I ran three 30 minute sessions.

The red team had left and circulating on track when I finally added my splash of red were a pair of beautifully decked-out replica Cobra open seat sports cars. With big block Ford 427 engines installed, they definitely sounded the part but after a few laps in the first session, it became apparent that they were new to the track. Passing them, I noticed they fell in line behind me and stayed with me for the rest of the session. In the third session, it proved difficult catching them and after I returned to the paddock for the last time, they came and thanked me for hanging out with them  – they were able to watch and learn from my laps and they really appreciated the education! I now have more than a thousand laps at High Plains Raceway under my belt but I never thought following me would ever be of value to anyone, so the thanks I got was much appreciated.

With the balmy days of spring came weekend outings into the mountains and the Maserati and Viper proved to be great choices for Saturday afternoon drives. For anyone who is contemplating driving Colorado’s famous Peak-to-Peak highway, it’s an outing I would strongly recommend. It’s still not overpopulated with vehicles and yet this highway offers one of the best views of the continental divide  –  and the peaks remain  snow covered even in late June. Tucked away in the woods are numerous little cafes and bars  – our favorite being the one just to the north of  the village of Ward.

To our surprise, underneath a make-shift awning, a small band was playing and passersby were taking up benches around the stage. A great place for chili and hamburgers, the addition of live music made it hard to beat and we were reluctant to pull away without having listened to at least one chorus. But this is what makes driving in the mountains such an escape. You just don’t know what to expect next and having already been surprised in years past by moose and bears stumbling onto the road, it’s not a place to traverse with any speed. For some time now we have contemplated buying a secondary license plate frame with the words, “My need for speed ... I left at the track!”

In a couple of days’ time we will be packing up the RV once again for the week long trip to southern California. The plan is to spend some time with clients and then stop by Willow Springs International Raceway (WSIR) for a weekend with SoCal NASA  – the club whose track events we like to support. At   one point NASA, or National Auto Sport Association (and unrelated to the space program with the same acronym), broke away from its more famous sibling, Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) so as to provide a more family-friendly environment. The appearance of the big rigs and transporters of the semi-professional participants began to take away from the grassroots club atmosphere. Well, times may have changed but today, as I drive into the paddock of any NASA event, it’s hard to miss all the big rigs and transporters parked by the cars and I have to wonder, are there further changes ahead?

Before we begin to prepare for the trip to southern California, there are many more BBQs to enjoy and with the evenings still quite hot, we are better off grilling outside. Or so the theory goes – and with a good bottle of red wine, grilled corn and potatoes at hand, who can blame Margo for kicking back and leaving me to slave over the hot grill. As you will have noticed from the picture at the top of this post as well as what is showing behind the bar, our trees and bushes have flourished with the afternoon thunderstorms. We have even experienced a little humidity for the first time in ages - and it’s rather pleasant. For those watching their complexion, just a little humidity really helps. Or, so I am told!

Looking back at the Friday on track, we are realizing that we get as much enjoyment from just a couple of sessions late in the day as we used to get from a whole weekend on track. The travel is still the big item for us - just being on the road is reward enough for us. As much as we enjoy catching up with good friends on track weekends, we are starting to plot a different course for the future. Looking ahead, it’s going to be a lot more of sightseeing and a lot less of racing (although, as I will quickly add, with NASA and with the High Performance Driver Education program, we aren’t racing but rather, participating in sessions). The move to the C5 Z06 Vette certainly has trimmed the track time budget but to be fair, there’s much more we would like to be doing so I suspect that time is coming where we will only be contemplating two or three outings a year, all of them around the Denver area.

Perhaps it’s the evening atmosphere with good BBQ and fine wine but we are definitely mellowing-out. Change does come and we do adjust, and the company command center has changed our lives in numerous ways. No longer dreading domestic flying - we continue to drive to client meetings more often than not with the RV being our first choice for transportation. But with change comes some uncertainty as we do love the cars we have  - in many respects, we view them as our children and parting with them will be traumatic. Talking of change, living along the front ranges of the Rocky Mountains ensures we enjoy every season and often in just one day. The thunderstorms have returned and the rain is pelting down. 

The sunny backyard of just a few minutes ago is awash in rainwater and we have retreated indoors. Of course, the flora welcomes the rain and it’s as if we can hear the plants growing - rainforests in Colorado? No likely and yet, this is developing into quite a different summer to those of previous years. I guess it is time to pack up and head for California.  This is serious business after all, and there are clients to meet, steaks to be devoured, and a great track to enjoy and no, a little rain never hurt no matter the timing!