Waterford Hills Raceway
May 24, 2003; posted June 1, 2003
GROUP Red posterboy Seth Witte bids adieu to his fans and prepares to take the track:
It's taken me a week to write this post, so forgive me for passing on "old" news. My excuse is that my wife gave me a couple Richard North Patterson novels for my birthday. The books are now done, so I can get back to my primary purpose in life, writing long-winded posts to Virtual Vairs.
Saturday of Memorial Day weekend started early for me. I was up at about 5:10 a.m. because I had a drive ahead. I planned to take my Corvair to Waterford Hills raceway near Pontiac, Michigan. I've driven Waterford many times in the past, but always in one of the two Firebird Formulas I have had. This would be the first time on the track for me with a Corvair. Would the car hold up? How would it drive? Would I enjoy the experience driving on street tires instead of proper racing tires? I was anxious about all of these issues.
I got myself ready and woke up my boys. Jacob, who is twelve, and Seth, my eight year old, were looking forward to coming along. I turned on the lights in their room and they leapt out of bed despite the early hour. I wonder how I could get them to do this on school days? Maybe driving faster on the way to school....
We were on the road by 5:45 a.m. The sky was a dull gray overcast and cool rain and drizzle spattered the windshield. We stopped at Dawn Donuts to gas up and get some stomach shims, and we were on our way. We got to the track at about 7:40 a.m. and started unloading the stuff I had packed the night before...tools, jack, pup tent, helmets and the like.
At registration I got to meet Ken Hand in person for the first time. Ken lives in Pontiac and had brought the 2002 Grassroots Motorsports Corvair with him. Ken's son Chris was driving his '86 Fiero GT. Also registering was another Virtual Vairs member, Brian Siebenick, owner of a red '66 Monza. We were three Corvairs in a field of Audis, Corvettes, RX-7s, and other serious cars. And an Escort station wagon.
We got through registration and tech and got the cars unloaded. The track was wet due to the persisting intermittent rain. Here is a photo of Chris and Brian trying to keep warm, since dry was not an option:
Ken's car is heavily modified for competition and features a full roll cage and race prepared motor and suspension. He has some on track experience, but this was his first Waterford event.
Brian's Monza features a stoutly built 110 and is set up for drag racing. This was Brian's first road course event. Here you can see Brian's car and, from left to right, Chris's friend Yuri, Chris, the back of Brian's head, Ken, some guy named Ray, and yours truly.
The driver's meeting contained all the usual rhetoric about not being yahoos and having fun responsibly. The format was controlled passing with the following car only permitted to overtake with a point from the leader. There were no timekeepers; the point was just lapping the track for fun. The talking over, we went out for a couple orientation laps for drivers who had not driven Waterford before. After that, the first group of five, the fastest cars, took the track. Ken got strapped into his blue Vair and headed out. I caught him on the grid waiting to take the track in this shot:
Then they were off. Ken's car sounded great and ran powerfully. The first session he ran street tires due to the wet track conditions:
Despite the tread he did not get the traction he was looking for, and after an off-course excursion he changed to his set of Hoosier slicks which did better despite the wet surface.
At registration I asked to be put in the slowest group due to my uncertainty about the car. Despite this request, I was initially started in the middle group. Our turn came and I roared out onto the course. I felt I was acquitting myself fairly well, although I let a few cars go past. Then around me went the white Escort wagon....
The car handled well on the track. I found that unlike the Firebird, the car was quite amenable to deep trail braking (that is, continuing to apply the brakes after starting into a turn). Better tires and a firmer suspension would have made a big difference in my ability to carry speed through the turns. The biggest irritation I had was that my carbs consistently flooded out in corners, making it impossible to make full use of what grip I had. This will need to be remedied, but despite this problem car was a thrill to drive on track.
While I was on track, I turned the camera over to son Jake, who got this fine shot:
After my session, I asked to be placed back in the slowest group.
Brian ran in the novice group since road racing was new to him. Here he flashes past the start/finish line:
The next session found Ken on his race tires making good time:
Now running in the same group, Brian and I gridded together. We got a total of four sessions running together and through the day, his line improved markedly, and with it his speed around the track as he learned the art of late apexing.
Here Ken makes speed entering into the esses:
By afternoon the rain had let up and though we still drove under a leaden sky, the track gradually dried out. For one of our afternoon sessions, Ken joined us in the slow group for a photo opportunity of the three of us on track, with his son Chris tripping the shutter:
I dropped out of our threesome to find some open track, while Ken and Brian continued to play:
Here's a shot Chris got of me rounding a corner:
Late in the session I found myself carrying a bit too much speed into the corner at the end of the back straight. In the excitement of the moment I reverted to my water-pumper driver roots and lifted off the throttle. This was a mistake. The back of the car came around and I spun. The driver behind me avoided hitting me and I got back on track. With a little reflection I realized that had I given it power as the back end started coming around the car would have straightened out nicely. I still have some learning to do in driving the Vair on the track.
At the end of the day, my nice clean car was filthy. Exhausted but satisfied, the boys and I loaded up the car. We said our goodbyes and headed home. We talked about driving the Firebird at Grattan on Monday and watched old cars on the freeway, apparently leaving a car show. The first of them was a late model Vair.
We got off the freeway and with only a mile or so to get home I said, "The old car sure did well by us, didn't it?" The boys agreed. It was at that point that the clutch cable snapped....