Grassroots Motorsports Ultimate Track Car Challenge – Buttonwillow, June 8, 2008

By Jerry (Siddhartha) Bradbury

photos up soon

This Race Report will be a little different. No purple mountains’ majesty this time. The hills around Buttonwillow are seared a golden brown by the early summer sun; it’s flat, it’s sandy and it’s hot.

Grassroots Motorsports. The name alone conjures up the image of a couple guys in dirty t shirts wrenching on a junkyard find in the garage late at night with some cold Budweiser close at hand. The car is held together with baling wire and bubblegum and powered by go-fast grease. So by extension, the Grassroots Motorsports Ultimate Track Car Challenge should be a bunch of these cars whizzing around for the fun and the glory, right? Wrong. The winner of my class (I was placed in Independent Varsity because of the blower) was a carefully coiffed guy driving his Radical SR4. Grassroots? Excuse me, that’s a flat out race car! The paddock was full of such high dollar, high horsepower race machinery including a Morgan with an L7 Corvette engine in it, several Griggs Racing massaged Mustangs and other race cars. There’s no way I can hang with that bunch. They were turning lap times 20 seconds faster than me. A 5 second gap at the track is huge. 20 seconds is just a joke. So I figured I might as well just concentrate on learning the course. I haven’t spent much time at Buttonwillow so here was my chance to do some laps and hopefully learn some of its secrets.

Important to any athlete preparing to go is a starting ritual. Before each session, I like to do some visualization, some eye-hand coordination exercises, some right-brain/left-brain connection exercises and a little self massage before I get in the car. Then I walk up to the car, open the door, step over the roll cage and lower myself into the seat. With the door still ajar, I pick up the quick release buckle fastened to the submarine strap that goes between my legs and snap the lap belts into it. The HANS device slides around my neck and settles over my shoulders. The shoulder straps hold it in place when they are snapped into the quick release. Next I take off my glasses and place them on my right thigh while I pull my helmet on and fasten the chin strap. I stuff my glasses back into my helmet so I can see and fasten the HANS strap to each side of my helmet. The window net is rolled neatly on the sill of the driver’s door. I unroll it and attach it to the retaining clips at the top of the door, reach through it and close the door. Next my driving gloves are pulled on, the steering wheel is lowered and at last I exhale and pull the seat all the way forward, tightening the straps in the process and locking myself into the seat. A last check of battery cables, emergency cut-off switch, fire extinguisher and I fire it up and watch the lights for surprises while the engine warms up. I do it the same way every time and it is very calming. Sitting on the grid getting ready to go, I visualize driving laps and do some yoga breathing.

Now here comes a fella up to my passenger window while I am concentrating on what is about to happen. He’s ahead of me on the grid and is trying to promote some self-serving program where everybody behind him just stays back and gives him room to make a run. I respond that I will stay out of his way. If he’s faster than me, he’ll be ahead, and if he’s slower than me, I’ll pass him. “Oh, you won’t pass me,” he says, “Don’t worry about that.” Then he proceeds to go 50 mph down the back straight. Of course I pass him. Through the esses I see two faster cars coming. One passes me on the entrance to the last turn before the front straight. No problem. The other guy waits until I have apexed the corner and tracked out, then puts his left front bumper into my right rear quarter panel and keeps it there, trying to push me offline and out of his way. In the process, he shears off my valve stems and the tire goes flat. At the end of the straight when I try to turn left, I loop it and am done. All he had to do was go left and he could have easily passed me on the straight with his faster car. It was my first run-in with someone who would rather be disqualified to make his point that I shouldn’t have passed him than to pass me back. Later, I found out that car and its driver were 24 Hours of Lemons competitors – basically a demolition derby held at Altamont Speedway each year. I guess he forgot where he was. Or something. So I protested him, then had new valve stems installed on my wheel, pulled out a piece of quarter panel that was jammed underneath, laid on some duct tape and finished the day while his car sat in the paddock.

There was no chance of winning or placing with this crowd, so I just concentrated on trying to turn consistent fast laps. Approaching Magic Mountain at over 100 mph, the ABS light came on and when I got on the brakes, I locked them up and filled the cockpit with tire smoke. Back in the paddock I called Jacques, my sponsor from Bay Bridge Motors, to ask if there was anything I could do about it. “This is a good chance to learn to modulate the brake pedal,” he replied. Oh great. So I turned the emergency electrical cutoff switch on and off a couple of times and turned the ignition on and off a couple of times and the ECU finally decided that the ABS really was working after all. It gave me no more trouble.

Lessons learned: some people will cut off their nose to spite their face; Buttonwillow is fast – I was north of 100 mph in 3 places; aim for the dirt inside the berm at the Bus Stop; it takes guts to keep your foot on the floor between the Bus Stop and Magic Mountain, but the car will hold; for the last turn, slow it way down, turn in late and get back on the gas as soon as possible. I’ll be back here in October with USTCC. Hopefully, this experience will pay off then.

This was my first event with the new MiniMania Precision Steering Component in place. Look for my product review elsewhere in the blog.

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