May 5th, 2004

Off to California! Since I'm on "vacation from work" right now, I decided to pay a visit to my friends in California for a few weeks. Of course, the visit will coincide with two track days; May 15th at Laguna Seca, and May 21st and Thunderhill. Today I wanted to get an early start on things since I was planning on taking some mountain and coast roads instead of just taking the interstate all the way down, so I left my house in Portland at 6am. I was at the California border slightly after 10am, when my friends called and were shocked and were expecting me to arrive much earlier. But here's where the diversion took place. Right after I crossed into California I took a right on highway 96, with slightly under a quarter tank of gas. I figured I'd find gas on 96, right? Well about 15 miles down the road the gas light came on. A town called Klamath River was suppose to be coming up any moment. When I arrived and saw the sigh reading "Population: 150" I knew I was in trouble. The town came and went before it even started, and there was no gas. I had to make an executive decision to turn around (almost on E now), and back track the 20 miles to I-5 and try and gas up there. I tried to stay in 5th gear the whole time, and even though I was convinced I would run out of gas, I made it to the station... this tells the tail:

Almost 310 miles on a tank.. insane. And 13.048 gallons in a 13.1 gallon tank. Boy, I've been running things close lately! Anyway, after killing nearly an hour retracing my steps, I continued on down 96, which basically follows the Klamath River the whole way. It's a pretty nice drive, but most of the way isn't very tight turns. Just a bunch of sweepers. Most of the time is spent between 80-100. There is one amazing stretch, one of the best short stretches of road I've been on, just after Weitchpec and before Hoopa. It tightly follows a canyon wall, and is a series of 30mph turns, for about 4 miles. Great fun, but this stretch is 100 miles out of the way of anywhere you'd ever want to be, so it was nice to find but I'll probably never do it again. It's the first, second, and third clip featured in the video below. At the end of the stretch, as I was around 80mph, I saw coming at me two police pickup trucks. I slammed the brakes on, but luckily they didn't have their radar on, or I would have been meat. They were the only cops I saw on the whole 180 mile stretch.

What was pretty funny was before I got onto 96 from I-5, there was a sign that said, "San Francisco, 326 miles." After my 180 mile dance down 96 and onto 299, once I hit 101 there was another sign that read, "San Francisco, 299 miles." Ha! So I went 180 miles and gained 27 miles towards my ultimate goal. Oh well, this trip wasn't to get there as quick as possible. For the most part, 101 sucked, so when I saw the bypass to the Avenue of the Giants, I jumped at it. This is a pretty incredible road, as it goes through very large coast redwoods... some, in fact, were nearly as wide as my car is long...

The pace was slowed through here as I had to gawk at the massive trees (you'll notice the leisurely pace and the huge trees in the video... the only bit of driving in the video that was sedate). Shortly after that came the beginning of highway 1. The first 22 miles of highway 1 is incredible; some of the best road I have ever experienced. Amazing twists, fantastic road conditions. It's just great. I videoed the whole stretch and just watching the half hour of footage is fun. Here's the time for the link to the video of my trip down (23 meg MPEG). The issue with the video is I had the wide angle adapter on the camera, and as a result the majority of the frame is the inside of the car, so this is what the camera took the exposure off of, so most of the footage outside of the car was overexposed. I did my best to correct in editing, but it's still quite apparent. The first part of the video from highway 1 starts when you can see the pace I was traveling, and then I pull up behind a motorhome towing a vehicle, which is the "normal" pace for this road. You'll notice the difference. :-) I then came up behind a motorbike which was tooling along at quite a reasonable pace, but as you'll notice, the pace wasn't quite brisk enough. There's also a number of various passes in the video... at varying degrees of legality. :-) Right when this fun stretch of highway 1 is over, you wind up right smack dab on the coast, at a pretty scenic viewpoint.

Once I got here, I was pretty ready to just be at my friend's place in Walnut Creek, so at the first chance (highway 20, which has some great stretches and is the last clip featured in the video), I hopped back over to 101 and took it into the city, arriving about two hours after the last good road. When all was said and done, I was on the road for 14.5 hours, 850 miles, and it cost me $105 in gas. Ouch. Would have been way cheaper to fly, but then of course I wouldn't have the car, which is the whole point of the trip. If I took I-5 the whole way down, it would have been more like 9 hours and 600 miles. Not sure if I'll stick with my original plan of taking another scenic route back to Portland in late May or not...

All in all I'm quite happy with the car's performance on this 850 mile jaunt. The M Coupe has proven to be quite the GT car, even with my coilover suspension. It just ate up the miles in a very non-fatiguing fashion. The brakes are still a question point. I'll see how they really perform at the track. Initially they have no bite at all; they need to have a few quick warm up stabs before they really grab. The good part is once they're up to temperature, they seem to have amazing pedal feel and grab like mad. Of course this is just on the street, but initially they seem like they'd serve me well under hard use. However, they certainly do need to be warmed up, and they seem to cool off quite rapidly. So once they're up to temperature, they function great... it's just the first few stops during aggressive driving that can be a bit uneasy.

May 15th, 2004

My date with Laguna Seca has arrived. I didn't feel like waking up at 4:30am and driving 2.5 hours to the track in the morning, so I got a hotel in Salinas, about 12 miles from the track. But before leaving my friend's place in Walnut Creek, I changed my oil (at mile 44200), then hit the road. Salinas is an ugly town and I will probably never be staying there again. After checking into the hotel room last night, I drove down to Monterey looking for a place to eat on Canary row and found the Fish Hopper. I had a fantastic dinner (swordfish) on the bay, watching sea otters, pelicans, and ducks, while enjoy some fantastic local wine. A nice relaxing evening before heading to the track this morning.

What's interesting is for drivers in the advanced group, there is no real tech inspection. All you do is sign a form saying you did a vehicle inspection and that's good enough. This event was co-run by the Honda S2000 club, and there was something like 22 S2000s there (out of 75 cars total). Only one was running in advanced. There weren't too many interesting cars here, but there were two Radicals, which are great to see. There was also a guy towing his Porsche 944 with his Porsche 928. Pretty funny...

In the drivers meeting, they made it quite clear that your day would be done if you violated the 92db noise limit. I had heard of people having problems with the B&B loud exhaust in scenarios like this, so my first time up to point I asked for a sound check. The guy says, "What? In this?" I said I had heard of some people having problems with that exhaust. In a sound check, you're suppose to come in after 2 laps and ask if you were over the limit. I, however, got to come in before that because my very first lap, the first time I went through the corkscrew, I went straight through the dirt. All 4 tires. I didn't expect the bottom of the pavement to curve to the left like that, so I kind of went straight instead of curving left. After coming in for the black flag I was told the noise was fine. So I guess the exhaust isn't as loud as everyone thinks it is. :-)

My first two sessions around the track weren't even really fun. They were just too stressful as I was trying to learn the track, and as a result was holding people up. I didn't even bother taping my first session since I knew I'd be slow (so I don't have the off track excursion), but in the second session I was averaging lap times around 2:03. Two minutes flat was the norm for the third session, and by the fourth session I was running consistent 1:59s, but at the end threw in two 1:57. By the fifth and last session of the day, the last three laps were the only all day in the 1:55 range, with the fastest being 1:55.3. Before the fifth session one of the TrackMasters guys came up to me and asked how many events I had done. I told him about 10, and he then asked how many I had done at Laguna. He told me that several people mentioned to him that they wondered if I was in the right run group because I seemed slow and was taking odd lines. Part of that was I was just trying to let people by and they weren't passing me, but also I was still learning the track. I asked if it was recently or earlier in the day and he said it was earlier. I told him my current lap times and he said they were fine for the advanced group, and I was passing a few guys at the end of the day anyway.

The video (17.1 meg MPEG) is of one of my 1:55 laps where the two radicals pass me. Perhaps this isn't the best lap to choose, because it makes it look like I'm going terribly slow. :-) Needless to say, these things are going way faster than anything else there on the track. At the end of the day, despite my early frustration, it turns out I really do like Laguna Seca. I should have signed up for a two day event because there's no way I wanted the day to be done. TrackMasters brags about how much track time you get, but I barely got 90 miles of track time. Less than I usually get at PIR with larger run groups and more groups. Bummer. I did have a blast though. Hopefully I can make it down again soon. I was just getting the hang of it when it was over, improving lap times by multiple seconds each session. I'm sure I could easily shave another 4-5 seconds off with another day, even on street tires. There were still lots of areas where I was hesitant and screwing up, a few cases are apparent in the video above, if you're familiar with the course.

After the event I met up with some friends in Monterey, and then headed back to Walnut Creek, taking a bypass for Calaveras Rd. This is a winding, 1.5 lane road that follows the Calaveras reservoir. I also took it yesterday solo. Today I had a friend in the car, and had the video camera already hooked up from the track, so I took some video (10.8 meg MPEG) of it.

There's some funny commentary in the clip... I should also point out that while the pace is certainly brisk, what isn't as apparent in watching the video is that in all cases when I was whipping around I could either see the road ahead and around the bend, or was fully over to my side of the road in case of oncoming traffic. Yesterday I ran into over a dozen cars headed towards me driving like this, but never actually ran into any of them. :-) Always plenty of time to slow and pass each other leisurely... (though the forest ranger I passed still honked and yelled...)

May 19th, 2004

I went on a hike today in Calaveras Big Trees State Park (totally unrelated to Calaveras road & resevoir mentioned above... they're about 4-5 hours apart), which was a around 4 hours east of my friend's place in Walnut Creek. The route I took to get there kind of sucked, between Walnut Creek and Stockton on highway 4. It was nothing but one small city after another, with tons of trucks on the route. Once things finally opened up and the road just went straight in the middle of nowhere for a while, I got on it a bit. For a while I was just "cruising" at 140mph. When I saw a car in the distance coming at me a few miles away, I slowed to 100mph. Right about when I was down to 100mph, my Valentine 1 blipped Ka band. Being in the middle of nowhere, it was quite clear who that car in front of me was. I slammed the brakes on down to 55. A minute or so later I passed the cop as my radar detector was pegged. I swear he must have been going about 20mph when he passed me. I thought he may turn around and come after me, but luckily not. This was a straight up save by the V1! Good deal. Once I passed through Stockton, highway 4 really puts you out in the middle of nowhere. I continued to cruise just above 100mph most of the way to Calaveras. I was a bit disappointed with the sparceness of the Seqouias, but there's no way one could be disappointed with the trees themselves. Absolutly amazing that things this old and large are living. It was just totally awesome being in their presence. The tree on the right is over 25 feet in diameter six feet above the ground!

After the hike, I decided to continue east on highway 4 for a bit instead of heading back to the city. On the map it looked like it got pretty damn twisty, so I wanted to inspect it. Just east of Big Trees SP, it's really high speed sweepers, most taken around 90-110. Pretty fun, and something we don't really have in Oregon (unless you want a ticket on Mt. Hood). However, as I continued on, I came to quite an interesting sign... 24% grade!?!

After this point the road went down to one lane, and there was snow on all but the most exposed areas near the road (often several feet deep). Oh yes, and the road was quite twisty and narrow. :-) I was now not just in the foothills, but in the heart of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Unfortunately, for the WHOLE time on this section of road, there was a pickup truck in front of me (with Oakland Raider stickers all over it... my local friends always tell me to stay away from those type of vehicles :-) ). Of course there are absolutely no spots to pass, though there are some pull outs. The truck never pulled out, naturally. At one point just to test the waters, I dropped back just a bit, then when I saw a slight straight ahead I gunned it. I wasn't going to actually pass; I just wanted to see the truck's reaction. Naturally, the driver swerved over to the center of the road, then flipped me off. Sweet. I checked my map and thought for a moment, "Wow, I'm almost in Nevada! I've never been to Nevada before.. I think I'll go there, then turn around!" After 45 minutes behind this pickup, I saw another landmark and checked the map again. I had progressed about an inch towards my 4 inch goal. Damn! When these roads are twisty and you're traveling 30mph, you don't get very far! I decided to turn around slightly after Ebbetts pass, at 8732 feet. This is now the highest point I have ever been in any land vehicle, beating my old high by over 2000 feet. In western Oregon, there's nothing but glaciers at this elevation. Once I turned around and wasn't annoyed by any more slow asses, I took in more of the views, and stopped for some pictures, including the first one below, which I believe was at the section which was probably a 24% grade. Unfortunately it doesn't really show up just how steep the grade is. It was pretty cool seeing a road that steep though...

The second picture above includes a Bristlecone Pine Tree at the right. Cool! I've read about these, but never seen them in real life. These are the oldest trees in the world. They aren't very large simply because they are so high in elevation.

After this I continued back towards the city... this time at a much quicker pace than behind the truck, but certainly tempered, since it was a dangerous, one lane road. Once it became two lanes, speeds remained in triple digits except through small towns, all the way until Stockton. I saw only a handful of cars in this section. I took a longer route back, but it was certainly much quicker, as I avoided that industrial section of highway 4. Kind of funny that once I hit the interstate with a 70mph speed limit I had to slow down. It was a good day, though... not only did I get to enjoy a beautiful hike, but also got to enjoy some fun roads and a good time with the 'coupe.

May 21st, 2004

Thunderhill. My original plan was to just make this a day trip, but being that not a whole lot seemed to be going on with my friends in the bay area for the next few days, and the fact that Willows was two hours in the same direction as Portland, I decided to save $35 in gas and just head directly home after the track day. This meant packing up my car with all my possessions (including 3 weeks of clothes and a case of wine picked up) the night before the event, waking at 4:30am to get to the track, and then unpacking the car once at the track...

I was pretty excited about this event because it promised to be very low traffic on this very long (over 3 miles) course. There were less than 60 people registered, split between 3 run groups. Advanced was the group that was under-booked, so hopefully I wouldn't be getting in people's way at the start of the day as I learned the track. Unlike Laguna last week, some interesting machines showed up today...

The day didn't start out so well for me. Something just didn't feel right with the tires. The very first session of the day I felt like I was sliding all around and I wasn't even pushing hard at all! My lap times were around 2:22 this first session. This time I was smart enough to have the camera in the car because on the fourth full lap of the day the sliding got really bad, and I almost lost it in turn 5 (they were running the bypass today), and then did loose it in turn 11. These are the first two clips of the highlight video below. I really wasn't pushing the car hard at all, and was really bothered by its performance. I thought, "if the car's going to handle like this here, I'm just going to leave early and head back to Portland." The thing was I was running 35psi (cold) all around. I've always run this pressure. I ran it with my previous set and ran it at PIR and Laguna Seca last weekend and never felt like the tires were loose. Everything I loved about the Goodyears didn't exist. After the first session I decided to try adding 3psi all the way around. The next session was a different world. It felt like I was driving a different car. The car I actually liked! Now the tires were very progressive and didn't all of a sudden loose grip. I could get into a bit of trouble and easily correct. Weird that I didn't notice this pressure difference on any other track. I was already feeling much more comfortable with the track in the second session, and was making a few passes. Unimpeded lap times were around 2:17. By the third session I was passing more people still, and was all over the tail of what appeared to be a fully prepped 911 on slicks. Not sure why he was slow (see clip). There were a few very fast cars at the track, but for the most part I was on the bottom half of middle in the advanced group, and most people who passed me I was only loosing a couple seconds to each lap. Not bad considering I think I was one of only two people (who I noticed) in the group on street tires (more on the other guy later).

What seems to be a bit of a trend continued here at Thunderhill; even the people who are turning faster laps than me, I am still often out braking them, and sometimes am quicker in the turns. It's coming down to horsepower. Thinking about the cars at Thunderhill today in the advanced group, I probably had the lowest horsepower of the bunch (maybe the miata, but it's lighter and was supercharged). Perhaps it's time for a supercharger? :-) Going through all the video reminded me of this trend. It's neat to see cars open up this huge time gap on me on the straights and then me reel them back in during the braking zone. You can see a bit of that in the highlight video (11.4 meg MPEG). The black Daytona coupe pictured above was absolutely insane. He was pulling away from me on the straights quicker than the radicals were last week. It's whimsical to see how much faster than me he was. There are two clips of him in the video. One as he passes me between 10 and 11 (and is actually slower through 11 than I'd like to travel), then opens up a 3-4 second gap in a matter of 10 seconds. The last clip in the video he passes me between 13 and 14 at comical speed. It's just silly. The clip starts with me pulling out of turn 13. Through the turn he was right behind me. Look at the speed he passes me at. It's insane (and since I knew how fast he was, keep in mind I didn't even lift). However, watch me gain some of that time back in the braking zone (and that's more than just the both of us slowing down so I'm physically closer. The time gap decreased too) Pretty fun...

One neat thing was the TrackMasters guys had setup three kart runs for the day. Unfortunately I didn't have a kart... It would have been fun to run it (for free, and not just for people who were doing the track day) on this track. These guys were running laps around 2:40. I figured they'd be faster...

The second to the last session of the day I had fun tracking down that prepped 911. This pushed my lap times to a day best of 2:13.8. A video of the last complete lap (19.2 meg MPEG) of this session shows me picking up about 3 seconds on him from start to finish (he's the little dot in front of me). The video's not all that exciting, but it was my quickest lap, so I wanted to put it up for reference. Unfortunately, on the next lap when I was right about to pass him, the car was acting like it wanted to stall in left hand turns. This happened to me once before at PIR: NO GAS! I look down at the gauge and it reads 1/4 tank. I had been watching the gauge all day and was amazed at the gas mileage I was getting. When I had the fuel starvation problem I was at mile 115. That's way too many miles to get on 3/4 of a tank of gas at the track. I put it in 4th all the way around the track and put in 4 gallons in the paddock. Bummer about the gauge. It better not be doing this to me on the street because I won't be going through turns at an insane rate of speed so I won't know I'm about to run out until I really do! What I think confused it was when I was on E and got 4 gallons along I-5 before filling up in Willows, 40 miles later. Gotta keep this in mind...

The last session of the day was 3:00-3:20. There was an open session from 4:20-5:00 (40 minute!) that I would have loved to do, but it would have gotten me out of there two hours later, which would have put me into Portland past midnight. I decided to make the last official advanced session the last due to this, and the fact that the outside edge of my front tires was looking really ugly. It was completely rounded off. To hopefully save them a bit, I added another 2 PSI to the front (now running 40 front, 38 rear, cold). The last session of the day was probably the most fun, because there was a stock Subaru WRX STI in front of me the whole time. He was passing me earlier in the day, but when he didn't seem to be pulling on me this last session I thought, "I'm going to catch him!" I began pressing harder, but he just kept his distance from me (about 4 seconds in front). Every lap I would gain on him a little bit, and then screw up a turn, or screw up a shift. It was frustrating. He would open up more of a gap in the straights (300+hp turbocharged motor), and then I'd pull it back in the braking zone and a bit of the turn. We danced for 6 laps straight, but it was unfortunately cut short by a full course black flag. This ended the session. Both of us were given props by the TrackMasters coordinator when we drove in. I think he enjoyed watching us battle. I went and found the guy at the end just as he was coming to look for me. Both of us had a blast chasing each other. These type of things are what make these days great fun. This was the first track day for him in the STI (though had several in a 2000 M5), which he bought in Oregon a few weeks previous. It was stock with stock tires. I figured my fastest laps of the day would be chasing him down, but they were just the same as my previous session tracking the Porsche down: quickest being 2:13.8. I'd have placed that lap on instead of the one above, but the audio of it got messed up. Drag. Well, with the last session complete I inspected my tires (looks pretty bad... I'm going to try and dismount the tires and swap them next week (the inside edge is as the rest of the tire), and then look into getting camber plates):

...and packed up all my goods and was off to the great Northwest.

I certainly had fun on my trip to California. I wish I went ahead and did a track day at Sears Point too. I was afraid of the close walls... silly me. Next time for sure. I really enjoyed both tracks and hope to do them again. Laguna is probably my favorite of the two. It's more technical and takes a lot more to learn than Thunderhill, I think. I obviously could be quicker at Thunderhill, but I certainly accomplished more there than I did at Laguna Seca.

One thing that still bothered me about most of the places I was around the bay area, though, was the brown hills. I wondered if the hills were green at all in Spring, but nope; still brown. It's all rather ugly. I was very glad to be back home in Oregon. I made the trip from Willows to Portland in a few minutes over 6 hours. Not bad... must have been moving pretty quickly. :-) As I was approaching Oregon, I saw some God beams above some snow capped mountains... must mean gods country was near...

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David Paris
Last modified: Mon Aug 30 17:48:27 PDT 2004