Where does the time go? It
seems as if I just wrote the last newsletter, but it was months ago. I
better get started before more time slips by. The shop has been very busy
and many new customers have brought their cars to Kryderacing over the
Winter months. There have been several reasons for this, but basically
it comes down to “word of mouth” combined with the staff at the shop. In
a future newsletter we will try to update you on some of these new projects.
The bulk of this newsletter will be taken up with a report on the 2003
Open Track Challenge.
2003 Open Track Challenge
This was the second year for this competition. The event was scheduled for April 5-12. Reed joined with Russ Wilson last year and finished second in the Touring One Class. They rejoined this year with hopes of improving on that finish.
First, a little background on the event. The idea is to compete on seven different tracks over the course of seven days. Cars are broken into two categories. Basically, Unlimited Class cars can be towed between the race tracks and can use race tires, open exhaust, etc. Touring Class cars must be street legal since they will be driven on the highways between the tracks. Touring cars must use also street legal tires with a minimum tread-wear rating. Within each category are separate classes. The Touring One class is for the fastest of the Touring cars. At each track classes are combined in such a way to create four groups of roughly equivalent cars. Each group gets four 20-25 minute sessions during the day. All laps are timed, but the three fastest laps of the day are the only ones that count for anything. Think of it as four qualifying sessions with the total of your best three laps being added to determine your placing. But in this case there is no race. The total time of these three laps is compared to other competitors and determines your finishing position for that day. Points are awarded based on these results and then its on to another racetrack and another day. The total highway mileage for the event is usually around 1500 miles.
Reed and Russ were once again using Russ’ 1991 Corvette ZR-1. This street legal Corvette probably has more track miles on it than any ZR-1 ever built. In addition to the past two years of Open Track Challenge activity, the car has run four One Lap of America events, and countless other track events. It has evolved over the years from a stock Corvette into one equipped with a Lingenfelter prepped engine, numerous suspension revisions (including coil-over shocks), brake updates, safety equipment editions, light-weight body panels. and numerous other changes. Several changes were made for this year’s event and they will be mentioned as this article evolves.
Reed and Sandi towed the ZR-1 from our shop in Clinton, Ohio to Pahrump, Nevada. It was an uneventful trip except for one thing. It was very windy. Not only did this make the driving more difficult, the effect on fuel mileage was very noticeable. Fuel prices along the way were also very interesting. Our Dodge dually uses diesel fuel. It sells for 20-30 cents more per gallon in Ohio than regular unleaded gasoline. As we went west the price of gasoline climbed and climbed. Prices in Nevada and California were over $2.00 per gallon. Ohio prices had been less than $1.50. But diesel fuel prices hardly changed as were crossed the country. While we had felt “ripped off” in Ohio, we felt lucky out west. This pattern was also evident on the trip home.
We arrived in Pahrump, Nevada early Friday afternoon. Pahrump is only an hour from Las Vegas and historically was known for its brothels. But things are changing. Our road atlas showed a population of 1300 people. It was based on the 1990 census.
Current population is around 32,000. Russ wasn’t scheduled to arrive until later in the day so we went across the street to a casino for a sandwich. Neither of us were really hungry and after looking at their restaurant, we decided against food. But we did sit at the bar and ordered a couple of beers. Naturally there was a video poker machine in front of each of us just begging to take our quarters. Big gamblers we are not, but we do like to feed these machines quarters. We didn’t stay long, just enough time for a single beer. Sandi left with an extra $30 in her purse. Reed paid for the beers and was still up $6.
When Russ arrived we headed for another casino and dinner. Immediately after entering the casino we found a security guard and asked him where we could find their eating places. He politely suggested we go to the casino across the street. Apparently he had heard about our opinions of the restaurant we saw earlier that day and felt theirs was no better. The steaks we were served in the casino “across the street” were okay, but we were discovering there are very few good eating places in Pahrump.
Saturday was a test day. The location was Spring Mountain Raceway just outside of Pahrump. The track was built for driving school purposes and its layout probably does that job very well. There are lots of turns and a big variety to how you approach them. However, as a race track there isn’t much width or very many good passing areas. But for the purposes of OTC, it works great. It was good we tested. During the winter Lingenfelter had rebuilt the engine and we had made some changes to the front brakes. The engine work included a new exhaust system which we quickly found was too close to the ground and dragged on some of the numerous bumps around the track. The rear part of one side of the exhaust also pivoted when a joint weld failed. The pipe came into contact with the rear bumper, which it quickly melted. These and several other issues were handled during the test day.
The other big change to the car was an increase in size of the front brake rotors and related changes. The rotors were increased from a 13” to 14” diameter. Historically the Brembo set-up installed on the car years ago had worked very well, but occasionally we were able to boil the brake fluid. Many changes were tried over the years, but we never eliminated the potential for problems. Previous testing had also demonstrated the car‘s rear brake design was over-engineered. The idea to go to 14“ front rotors was based on improving brake capability/balance while keeping the same calipers and master cylinder configuration. It worked, but more on that later. Connected to this change was the need to go from 17” to 18” diameter rims in the front. We felt the rim/tire package used on the rear of the Corvette ZO6 might be a good fit on the front of the ZR-1. This change also worked, but presented some new problems with respect to alignment and handling.
At the end of the day we had solved the above problems and several others. We also registered for the event before we left the track. Walt Minato, a long-time friend of ours through track events and a longer-time friend of Russ’s, also drove down from Reno to join us for the week. We found a small, but very good Mexican restaurant and enjoyed both the food and drink that evening.
Sunday was the first day of actual competition. We were still at Pahrump. Ours was the third group in the rotation and after the two morning runs we had a good idea how the week would go. The fastest car is our class was a new Mosler driven by the owner of the driving school at Spring Mountain. The car easily dominated the class. In second place was a Viper we had beaten by very small margins last year. This year we were a second a lap quicker due to the improvements, but the Viper was three seconds quicker. In typical racer fashion, the Viper driver swore he had not made any changes over the past year. We were third and no one was breathing down our necks. The two afternoon runs showed minor time improvements, if any.
That evening we drove towards Las Vegas (“over the hump from Pahrump”). The wind we experienced on the trip west was still blowing and would continue at some level for most of the week. We arrived early in Las Vegas and had a great dinner at the Memphis Bar-B-Que. This eatery is located just outside of the gate of Nellis Air Force Base. It is a small place with large portions. On the appetizer menu was something called Fried Dill Pickles. None of us had ever heard of them, so naturally we had to try them. We all agreed they were a winner.
Monday’s competition was supposed to be on the professional road course located inside the oval at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. But changes moved us to the Derek Daly School road course located outside the oval. While still a school course, this one was an improvement over Spring Mountain from the standpoint of smoothness, curbing design, width, and run-off safety. After the two morning sessions we found ourselves once again in third. We were also well behind first and second, but well ahead of fourth. The approaching afternoon heat meant lap times would worsen unless handling gains were found. Reed had noticed the new 18” front tires were giving extremely quick (as in “snap”) turn-ins. This made the car feel nervous. Tire pressure changes didn’t seem to cure the problem so we reduced the amount of “toe”. This resulted in a noticeable improvement, but not enough to catch the cars in front of us.
That evening was the first of several long drives. After Russ picked up his son Tyler at the airport we all met at a town called Primm, located at the border between Nevada and California. Shortly after leaving Primm we heard there was a total blockage of Interstate 15 between us and Baker, California. With no other options we continued on and hoped the mess would be cleared by the time we arrived. It was, but unfortunately the cause involved one of our competitors. Seems his trailer made contact with a tractor/trailer rig in a construction zone. Everyone was okay, but the trailer and a street car located inside it were destroyed. The tow vehicle ended up resting on the divider between the lanes, facing oncoming traffic. After stopping to make sure everyone was okay we all continued towards Buttonwillow and our next competition. Because of the long drives, everyone made do with Carl’s Jr for dinner that night.
Tuesday found more of the same as far as our class was concerned. Positions one through three were well established following the two morning runs. We were trying some changes with the rear alignment, but found very little improvement. This was one track where the afternoon sun really slows the track down. Reed tried to go faster by trying harder, but all he accomplished was getting the car dirty due to two off-course excursions. By mid-afternoon we were headed down the road for another long drive. Russ had to leave us due to some important business obligations and Tyler would officially become the co-driver. Sandi and Walt were still traveling with us and offering support where-ever they could. It was a good thing they were with us.
On the previous day, while traveling from Vegas to Buttonwillow we had experienced a problem with our dually. But as quickly as it appeared it went away. Following Buttonwillow we noticed it again. Either the clutch or clutch master cylinder was failing. While driving to Thunderhill, Sandi made a few phone calls and scheduled the truck into a dealer for inspection. This was another long drive. We don’t know where everyone else ate that night, but it was probably another fast food place. Reed found a Burger King.
Wednesday morning we took the car to the track early. Sandi and Walt then headed to the dealer with the dually. They returned just in time for our first runs. The dealer would call later with the results of their analysis. As far as the track runs were concerned, there was nothing new to report. We were a second a lap faster than last year, but once again found ourselves a solid third. Over the course of the last couple of days we had been swapping rear tires between a fairly new set of Goodyear Eagle F1’s and a worn set (which normally is quicker). But the worn set was now starting to get worn out and it was a toss-up as to which set to use. The bad news of the day was the call from the dealer. A new clutch was required, and since it is a “wear item”, we would have to pay. We were told it should be ready sometime the next day. The good news of the day was we found another great restaurant. This one meant we had found two Mexican restaurants, each one easily better than all the ones around us back in Ohio.
Thursday arrived and we were back at Thunderhill. But this time we were running the opposite direction around the track. This direction was a little unsafer than the original but most of that was due to less off-road thought being put into run-off areas. The course itself is a great one in either direction. With regards to competition, we did have one glimmer of hope when the Mosler leading our class developed a badly cracked oil pan. If they could not fix it we had a chance of barely overtaking them in the points race. Only two of the seven events were left. The dually repair was nearing its finish and Walt took Sandi back to the dealer before he and Tyler headed to Willow Springs. That evening was the longest trip of the week (almost 450 miles) and there was no reason for everyone to get in late. We do want to thank Walt for traveling with us and helping. His original intent may have been to offer some minor assistance while enjoying the competition, but because he and his Porsche were along it made it possible to easily handle the dually problems. The dually was done on time, Sandi returned to the track for Reed and the trailer, and we arrived at our hotel around midnight. Along the way the Mosler passed us on the highway. Oh well, we never like to wish bad luck on anyone, but the fact it was repaired basically meant we would finish third for the week, unless we broke.
Friday’s competition was at Willow Springs (the big course) and once again we were faster than last year. And once again we were third. Walt had departed during the morning hours in order to return to Reno and other engagements. We were going to leave at noon to avoid some of the major traffic issues on I-15. The Friday night traffic from Los Angeles to Las Vegas is no fun to drive in, especially towing a trailer. But a couple of things happened. First, there was competition from the competitors behind us. Two Corvette Z06’s had been putting on a good battle for fourth place all week and they were much closer to us on this track than any previous one. Part of the reason was the track favored the handling characteristics of the Z06. Another was their intense rivalry was pushing them to take chances in order to turn quicker lap times. If we hung onto third we would wrap it up for the week. If we dropped in position we would be vulnerable if a problem developed between now and the end of the event on Saturday. We could not ignore the afternoon session. Of course, everyone knew the track would be significantly slower in the afternoon heat, so the morning results would most likely not be improved upon. But we all had to try. The second reason to stay was due to a “Corvette Fever” magazine writer wanting to get a couple of photos of the car on track. We stayed, everyone ran two seconds slower, our third place in class was locked in, and hopefully someone got some great photos.
Later that afternoon, we were headed to Las Vegas on I-15. We were happy to be ahead the heavy evening traffic. But somewhere between Barstow and Baker we heard there was an accident 20 miles beyond Baker and the road was closed. Shortly after that, we came to a stop in the traffic jam as we started to pass Baker. Tyler was driving the ZR-1 and he exited into Baker and found a restaurant while we waited out on the highway. It was still daylight when this all started. Four hours later we had moved slightly less than one mile. Tyler had given up and taken the back-road through Death Valley and Pahrump. That path is considerably longer, but at least it was open. We finally all made it to our hotel around 10pm. We actually beat Tyler, but it wasn’t by much.
Saturday was the seventh and final day. Once again we were at the Derek Daly driving school track at Las Vegas. For a while it looked as if we would run in the opposite direction from earlier in the week, but the track management nixed that idea from a safety standpoint. We ran slightly faster than we had earlier in the week, but, you guessed it, we once again finished third. That made it seven events and seven thirds. During the Corvette Fever interview Reed had compared last year’s and this year’s competition. Last year was like a sprint race in that every lap and every fraction of a second was extremely important. You did whatever you could to gain small improvements because they might make a difference in the results. And they did. Our margin of victory over the car behind us under a second for four straight events and once it was a low as .017 seconds. This year was like an enduro. You could stretch limits to gain a fraction of a second, but the competition was too far ahead to catch without some disaster striking them. The same was true of competitors following us. The best course of action was to run fast enough to maintain position, not break anything, and hope someone else had problems. No one, including us, had any major problems and we finished third.
We did learn something during Saturday’s run. After the two morning runs we considered quitting for the day since there was nothing to be gained and the track again would be slower with the afternoon heat. The front tires were very close to showing cords in the shoulder area and were basically ready for the scrap pile. But there was one thing we needed to test and this was the perfect opportunity. How would the car handle if we switched back to last year’s 13” rotor set-up and 17” rim/tire package in the front? We had never compared them back-to-back. The result was interesting. While the overall front grip and response was slightly reduced from the 18“ tires, the “feel” of the 17” tires was a little lighter. In a future test we plan some alignment adjustments in an effort to improve the feel of the 18” tires while keeping their performance level. The real interesting result occurred on the sixth lap. The brake fluid boiled. We weren’t even looking for this because the cars brakes had performed flawlessly all week. There had never been a hint of brake fade and the condition of the 14” rotors was excellent when we removed them. We definitely want to incorporate the 14” rotors in all future track events.
In hindsight, the week was a little disappointing because we dropped from a second place in 2002 to a third this year. But the engine rebuild and changes to the brakes did improve car. On the way home we made a list of changes we want to consider for next year’s event. Many of them are minor, and the belief is we can make the car competitive with at least the Viper which finished second this year. But the goal is to win. After two years of competing this Viper team and our team both have a second and a third place trophy. We both want to be first to complete our set with that first place prize.
We checked into the Monte Carlo that evening, cleaned up, and walked down the street to Caesar’s Palace for the banquet. The banquet was located inside Planet Hollywood and was well organized. Actually, the entire week was well organized. The atmosphere of the week-long event was a mixture of competitiveness between the competitors under a well directed schedule and program by the people operating the OTC. Mixed in with all of this is a large amount of friendliness on everyone’s part.
Following the banquet we decided to try a little luck at poker. After all, the week had started with a winning afternoon in a Pahrump casino. But the volume of the week’s activities were catching up with us. The lure of a bed was too strong to resist and the gambling was cut short. On Sunday morning we started the four day trip home. The wind was still a factor, but it had finally switched from continuous to intermittent.
Wow, I never thought this
story would cover four pages when I started writing it. There are a lot
of other things happening at Kryderacing and I will be reporting on them
in an upcoming (soon?) newsletter.