V-V-F Road Race-A-Thon
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© 1999 Brian F. Schreurs
Even we have a disclaimer.

Try not to hit any rocks bigger than your car.

Summit Point Raceway, Summit Point, W.Va.

Road Race: Monday, July 19, 1999

So you think you know how to drive fast?

Heh heh heh.

Here's a look at the course.
The Mid-Atlantic F-Body Organization once again teamed up with the Viper Club of Virginia and Maryland and the Northern Virginia Corvette Club to create another rollicking Viper-Vette-Firebird/Camaro (V-V-F) shootout. This time we descended upon Summit Point Raceway for a road race!

Well okay, technically it wasn't a road race because we technically weren't racing. This was an instructed driving school. We had instructors. We were learning to drive fast. And we weren't being timed or scored.

We just had several dozen of the fastest cars along the eastern seaboard looking for bragging rights at the first ever V-V-F Road Race-A-Thon.

The format basically followed Summit Point's Friday At The Track. Everybody got four 20- minute sessions with about an hour between sessions to cool off and think about the next run. Because there were so many novices, we had three beginner Groups -- 1A, 1B, and 1C -- and only one Group 2 for advanced drivers. We were in group 1B.

Every driver had his own highlights from the day. There was triumph and there was tragedy. If you learn nothing else from a day on a road course, you learn where the weaknesses are in your setup. Unfortunately, a couple of cars found the weankesses were in the bottom end of the engine. We wish these sportsmen a speedy recovery for their cars.

We can't tell every story from the track, but we can share a few of our own.

* * * * *

I strap into the Firebird -- on the passenger side. Two-thirds of the instructors failed to show for the day, so the skidpad lessons have been cancelled and the run groups reshuffled. This means I'm starting later than originally scheduled so I've had more time to think about this craziness.

As the instructor makes himself comfortable in the driver's seat for two orientation laps, I ask myself, "Who in his right mind would throw a $25,000 car -- that's not even paid for -- around a two-mile road course?"

No. That comes later. Much later. In truth my only thought is Dammit I want to drive!!

It is humbling to hand the keys to a total stranger and ride with him as he drives your car better than you. But it can also be educational if you are paying attention. I am 100% focused.

Dan is smooth as he glides my car around the course. He makes it look easy. I know it is not. Dan also talks a lot -- a regular chatterbox. But that's good, because I'm a total novice and need all the information I can get. He points out each cone along the edge of the track and tells me what I am supposed to do each time. Brake here. Accelerate here. Drive straight for this cone. Turn in at that cone. I know I won't remember them all.

My turn. Dan continues to chatter away, helping me to remember which cones mean what. Most of the time I remember. Sometimes I don't. Turn 10 presents a challenge: I keep driving toward the braking cone rather than the turn-in cone. To make matters worse, the corner looks for all the world like it can't be done at the speeds I pick up off the straight -- so the back of the brain screams slow down!! while the instructor orders floor it!

I zoom down the front straight, shifting into fourth as I go.
I get overconfident after a blast down the front straight at 110. I hit Turn 1 way too fast; make the turn, but at the expense of Turn 2. Off the track. Whee! Dan grabs the wheel to help me get back on course. Dan likes to grab the wheel. A little more than I'd like. But his chatter continues and he does not allow me the time to get nervous about my excursion.

The Firebird's tires squeal at every corner. Even a blind man would know where I am on the track at any moment. Dan asks, "What kind of tires are these?"

"Goodyear Eagle RSAs," I reply. "I haven't been too happy with them lately."

"What pressure do you have them set at?"

"Street pressure."

"You might want to inflate them a bit more -- maybe 44 psi hot."

The cool-down lap arrives all too soon.

* * * * *

The Firebird brakes hard as we approach Turn 5...
Dan walks over for session two. This time he heads straight for the passenger side.

We screech through Turns 1 and 2. "Did you inflate those tires like I told you?" he asks. I tell him I did.

"They just suck then. What are they? I got to remember to not buy them."

After the first lap I run down a convertible Corvette in the Chute. The license plate: HRD2GET. Right. I stay with him through the Carousel and he lets me pass between Turn 9 and 10. I'm feeling confident, despite still having issues with Turn 10. Dan chatters away, giving me pointers and praise. Mostly pointers.

Next time around I blast through the Chute pretty well but when I hit Turn 5 the Firebird doesn't quite make the turn. We kick up a bit of dirt but get back on track. Dan asks whether I did that or whether the brakes are going. I reply that I'm not quite sure -- which I'm not. It all happened so fast, I don't know whether I made a mistake.

...and keep on going through the Carousel infield.
I pay closer attention to what I'm doing and can pretty much tell whether I hit a corner right or wrong. I get some of each. As I approach the Carousel, I drop a four-wheel-anchor and--

--pretty much don't slow down. WHAM!! I saw it coming as soon as I hit the pedal but that made our landing no less severe. The brakes are definitely an issue here. I wrestle the Firebird through the infield, skipping Turn 6 altogether and rejoining the course at Turn 7. I turn down my enthusiasm a notch and spend the remainder of the session just practicing my line at a moderate pace.

* * * * *

I introduce myself to Jeff, my new instructor. He is not nearly as chatty as Dan. In fact he pretty much spends the first lap in silence. I ask him if there is anything he wants me to do.

"No, I want to see what you've learned first."

No problem. I do the best I can, which is pretty good in places (Turns 3 and 4) and a little squirrelly in others (Turns 1 and 2). When I slide around Turn 5, I find myself on the bumper of a black Trans Am which appears to be barely in control.

Too bad the order didn't stay this way for long.
"Whoah! Don't follow that guy!" Jeff exclaims.

I give the T/A some space through the Carousel and blast past under the bridge. In order to pass him I get going quite fast and approach Turn 10 a little quicker than I'm used to. I pull through okay but I wag the tail a little doing it.

Jeff starts talking about a new line through Turn 1 but doesn't finish by the time I get there. Not quite sure what to do, I get the car all out of kilter and we waggle through Turn 1 and 2, and veer off course before finding Turn 3.

Jeff keeps fine-tuning my line. I like Jeff; he wants to drive like I do. Following his instructions feels natural. I tuck the car closer to the edge of the track in the corners, upshifting to fourth in places where I didn't need to before. After getting slightly tail-happy in Turn 5 he asks how the brakes are doing. They could be better. I slow it down a little and practice my line. With Jeff's help I've conquered my nervousness about Turn 10 and have picked up some speed in the Chute.

* * * * *

Perhaps in an effort to get as many instructors off-course as possible, a third person plunks into my Firebird for the fourth session. His name is Mike, and the first thing he wants to know is how the brakes are holding out. Word must have spread.

I lead a fellow Firebird through Turn 3.
We find out how the brakes are holding out in the second lap when I hit Turn 1 way too hot. By now I'm pretty confident with the line through the dirt so I get us back on course without difficulty.

Moments later we exit the Chute, barrelling straight for Turn 5, the beginning of the Carousel. The Firebird resists slowing again, but determined to not hit the infield for a third time I punch the brake pedal into the engine bay. We get through the corner but the tail comes out -- I correct -- it swings in -- I correct -- out it goes -- sideways now -- Mike says lock em -- I ignore; correct again -- shew! Firebird goes straight.

"I'm having some trouble with the brakes," I observe. "I think we'll go a little slower, just practice the line if that's okay."

Hard on the gas, up a rise, on the way to Turn 4.
Mike does not object. We cruise the track a little slower than I had been going in previous sessions. A convertible Firebird caught up with me during my the slide but repeated efforts to wave it by fail. I still do pretty good in the corners and pull away a bit. There's not enough space in the smaller straights for the convertible to catch and pass. Finally the convertible catches me out of Turn 10 and I wave it by on the front straight.

Mike is a little hard to understand -- doesn't talk loud enough to cover the roar of the engine and wind. But I listen as best I can and follow his suggestions. He helps me fine-tune my line through the Carousel. Before I am ready I get the cool-down flag and the day is over.

* * * * *

If there's one thing a day of road racing does for you, it shows you the weaknesses in your setup. Since the Firebird is basically stock, it showed where GM underestimated the severity of use the car would see. Obviously our number one complaint is brakes: they are quite inadequate for road racing. Although the rotors held up (which we didn't expect), next time out we will have heavy duty pads on the front. Carbotech Panthers are the most likely choice since Performance Friction still has not released a pad for the 1998+ calipers.

Also the Eagle RSAs left a lot to be desired. We're hoping to have some new 17" wheels with BFGoodrich Comp T/A ZR tires by the time we hit the track again. They should hold up a lot better. Plus the 17" wheels will look a lot better, and it's nice when a performance mod looks good too.

Finally, we noticed that the power steering reservoir boiled over a bit. GM makes a power steering cooling kit and it seems this car needs it.

There's plenty of items on our wish list too, like brake ducts, a strut tower brace, and subframe connectors. But these things will come in due time. We'll race without them. And already we're looking forward to the next assault on The Point.