After three months of “lounging around” this year, The Nuts finally got back out on the track for this Performance Driving Experience (PDX) event. This makes the fourth HPDE event in which we’ve participated, but this time we instructed! This was our first time instructing and it was a really interesting experience.
The event combined the PDX activities with a Solo 1 (Time Trials) event. The first run group hosted all of the Solo 1 competitors. The next run group contained the bulk of the PDX students. The third group contained the instructors and the most advanced students. With each session running twenty to thirty minutes, everyone got lots of track time. With three run groups and twenty minute sessions, the PDX students each drove four sessions each day.
Our preparations for this event congealed at the last minute. We’d been wanting to run since the beginning of the year, especially to take out the Baby Grand car and get some seat time. We started to sign up as students in the advanced group, but the organizers came back and asked if we'd like to instruct. After a bit of soul searching, we decided to give it a try.
Lefty’s trip from Atlanta to Greenville started out behind schedule, as it took longer than expected to pick up the trailer and get it loaded. About fifteen minutes out, there’s a traffic alert right in the path to Greenville. Lefty went “the back way” to Road Atlanta and struck out cross country to get past the accident before entering I-85. The detour ended up costing only thirty to sixty minutes, but was a huge pain in the backsides. The Nuts met in Greenville and loaded the Baby Grand. The rest of the trip to Kershaw passed without drama.
The student originally assigned to Lefty didn’t show up at the event, so he helped an overloaded instructor by taking over one of his students. Nick was also an accomplished autocrosser, driving a well prepared, gutted Toyota Corolla FX16 on race tires.
With the large amount of autocross experience they both had, and the FWD of Nick’s FX16 and AWD on Shane’s RS, they both did very well on the track, even in the abundant rain on Saturday. Once the weather cleared and we rode with them in the dry, we cut them loose to run solo for the rest of the event. They both exhibited much better than average car control skills as well as knowledge and &lduqo;instructability”. And we learned a lot at the same time, as we adapted to our new roles as instructors.
Nick did seem to have an avenging angel riding his shoulder sometimes, though. In the second on-track session, his car ejected its dipstick and covered the right rear tire with crankcase oil. That made the ride something of an adventure for both of us, but he handled the resulting “tank slappers” and spins very well. Then, in the last session before Lefty cut him loose to solo, the engine belt idler pulley flew off into the gravel trap driver”s right at turn one. But nothing catastrophic happened to us or the car, so “no harm, no foul”.
Another student somehow lost the oil filler cap on his supercharged Ford Mustang Cobra. He also got a taste of trying to drive with tire(s) covered in oil. The really amazing thing was that the corner workers actually managed to find the cap in the grass around the course!
One of the STIs did exit the surface driver’s right, just past the kink (turn ten) on Saturday in the wet. He was able to stop before hitting the tire wall, but as Lefty puts he was probably “tasting cotton”.
One guy in a SPO/CP Thunderbird (ex-ARCA, or ASA, or something) wasn’t so lucky on Sunday in the dry. He put all four off the course driver’s left, spun across the surface exiting again, to driver’s right, then slid across the grass to mash all four corners in the tire wall. He was fine, but the fiberglass body was largely toast.
The Nuts At The Track
As mentioned above, it rained basically all day on Saturday. That turned out to be a blessing in disguise, though, since the forecast called for much more severe weather than that, and it never materialized. On Sunday, though, the weather really could not have been better. Cool, clear, slight breeze, lots of sun ... who could ask for more.
This was our first time getting the Baby Grand out on the track. Actually, it was the first time we”d done more than drive it on or off a trailer! We also took the #91 RX-7 so we could swap back and forth and each drive every available session.
With our mascot Carl firmly planted on the hood (thanks Dave!), the Baby Grand turned out to be even more of a blast than we expected! It has similar horsepower to the ITA RX-7, but it’s more than 1,000 pounds lighter than the RX-7. Plus, we ran race slicks, and the wheelbase is about 25% shorter than the RX-7. So it pretty much drives like a go kart in heat, even with the live axle rear end. With the rev limit set to 9500, and room to move it higher, and a five-speed sequential gearbox, what fun it was!
Righty even had to “black flag” himself on sessions because he was getting too confident and engaging in behaviors that were a little too risky for the first weekend in the car. In fact, his wide feet almost put him straight-off of turn one when he stomped the brakes and the gas. Luckily, he was able to gather things in before he left the surface.
Lefty had some problems getting the hang of down shifts on the sequential motorcycle gearbox. Sometimes, it seemed he ended up in neutral in between third and fourth on downshifts. And on one lap, in the dry on Sunday, entering turn eight, he down shifted too quickly or one gear too far, the car swapped ends in the blink of an eye, and he went off driver’s left backwards. It all happened so fast he didn't have time to even think about what was happening. He just went “both feet in” until he stopped, then watched the corner worker for a “point”. He did have trouble getting going again, not being used to how much revs that lightweight drive train needs to get the car moving from a dead stop.
We didn't go out in the rain in either car, so we only got one session each in on Saturday. On Sunday, though, we drove every session we could.
The #91 RX-7 wasn't as much fun. During it’s first session Sunday morning, Righty discovered that the oil catch can had ruptured when he oiled down his right rear tire and looped it leaving the pits, and left the surface driver’s left just past turn one. That was a little embarrassing. We thought to ourselves, “Easy problem, easy solution.” <foreshadowing>We didn’t think about this enough to understand the implications.</foreshadowing>
We finished up around 1700 Sunday and headed home. Righty needed fuel so we stopped at a station right beside the entrance to I-20. As we left the gas station, and tried to negotiate a nasty, busy intersection, Lefty had an accident. Luckily the truck was still drivable, and we continued towards home as soon as the police let us. It got pretty dark as we got to Spartanburg, and it became obvious the accident had misaligned the headlights. He stopped in Greenville and spent the night, getting back to Atlanta around lunch time on Monday.
The performance of the Baby Grand represents the most memorable aspect of this weekend. It went beyond all of our expectations, and we expect to have just a ton of fun in it in the future. That thing is just F-A-S-T (if you keep the revs above 6,000).
The #91 RX-7 seemed to do pretty well, too. The catch can was easy to replace from the parts car, since it's using the windshield washer reservoir as the catch can.
The track time was fun in both the driver’s and passenger’s seats, and we had a great time overall, even with the traffic accident. Plus the students behaved themselves and made good progress, and seemed to have a good time, too.
would like to extend thanks to the following people and
organizations for helping to make this a very enjoyable and
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