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2003 Watkins Glen Trip Report

This is my 2003 Watkins Glen trip report, which I was depressed was no longer online.  This was the first run of the Galant VR4 at Watkins Glen, and built some memories that would last a lifetime.  It also created a slight addiction to track racing, which I would find pulling me back.  – Enjoy

June – 2003

I reenacted some of the best video game driving skills that I had to offer yesterday and today.  The 2 day Watkins Glen PCA event was a blast.  That isn’t to say that it was a smooth two days by any means, but being able to really push the car around this track at high speeds, surrounded by top notch cars and perfect conditions was awesome.

Needless to say out of the 4 vehicles that went down in our group, the most reliable and worry free one was the 1980 Chevy van with 295,000 miles on it. There were three of us, myself, Mike Hayes, and Tim Harper.  I will try and let them tell their own sides.

We made the tech sign in with about 30 minutes to spare Sunday night, which was as painless as it could have been.  A few slices of pizza and a few beers for each slice and we were ready for sleep, though the thoughts of the track made it hard.  

Monday– The 5 AM wake up call comes quick on Monday.  The sole purpose is to secure the paddock spot inside for the premium pit spots. Mission accomplished. I had a dead battery in the car, so I charged it up before I went to class.  I get placed in the green group, which should have been labeled “soccer mom’s who were given a Porsche” group.  Seems that this was more of a group for those looking for that once in a lifetime thrill and have never rubbed the nobbies off the side of their tires.  

I didn’t meet my instructor until right before it was time to run, who looked thrilled to be riding in a 4 door riced out car.  His best two quotes at this point were…

“Is this what they call modern street cars these days?”

“At least it will be quiet at we will be able to talk”

Sure we will.

The first run out was more of a parade lap with me testing the instructor.  The last thing I need his him flipping out. (referencing nightmare stories of Tim’s first instructor) They didn’t stagger the starts so all of the noobies were piled up and nobody was passing.  Of course I am near the back.  I had never been around the track, so I enjoyed getting to see the turns and the cones, until about the 3rd lap when I was ready to hit the gas.  We squeaked around a few cars, but the session ended pretty quickly, and I never even got to lean into the brakes.

Get back to the pits and the car STINKS.  At this point I am thinking it is a leaking transfer case seal dripping oil on the exhaust or some fluid remnants, so I ignore it. 

The second session of day one comes up and we get a couple good laps in. I am really getting to feel the car do what it is supposed to do, while I start labeling my trouble corners. Then about half way through when I am getting some confidence, we get behind the train again. With both my instructor and myself fed up with the train, we pull into the pits for a pause.  We figured I would let them get ahead and give me some space to move.  As they went out of site, we gave them some time, until we figured they must be close to the “bus stop” before I head out.  Well it took about half a lap to catch up to that group, and they weren’t moving.  We head back in and the instructor takes car of bumping me up to the next level (the white group).  He brings over his buddies at this point to really check out the car.  I guess it wasn’t as ricey as we thought.  They give me a few nice compliments, and you could tell they were talking up the car pretty good, which felt nice. I pull back in the garage and the car stinks worse than ever.  Damn transfer case? 

We go get some lunch and come back to the stinky car and the prospect of some time before track time and class, now that I was in Tim’s group. Tim takes a peak under my hood and informs me that my battery is boiling.  Great.  Go to start the car up and she is really dead now.  That wasn’t transfer case oil we were smelling, it was boiling battery acid. Obviously on the edge of a battery explosion, that run wasn’t going to happen with the white group.  I decide to head to the green noobie class and fulfill my requirements, while Tim takes another session with the white group.  He gets done and I borrow his car to run into town to fashion a miracle battery fix, while he sits in the white group class.  I go to the slowest NAPA in the country.  I ended up buying a battery that was returned under warranty for $40 and a foot of 2 GA wire with some ring connectors to extend my power terminal. I thought I had everything, so I headed back to get busy trying to fit a square peg in a round hole.  (custom battery VS non custom battery mounting)  It went smooth until I tried to put the terminal bolts in, and found that I didn’t have any.  At this point, Tim is headed back out for last runs of the day.  My instructor stops over and heads out to find me some bolts. (that guy now rocks in my book)  I start doing some damage on the metal bracket that is going to hold thing in the car and the power wire extension.  A few minutes later he comes back with the bolts, I get the thing wedged in there with a lot of washers, and we are clear to run with the safety gods.  We end up going out with the green group for the last run of the day, since it was already past the white run time and I just wanted to be on the track.   The group wasn’t as bad as before and I got some open track to myself for once.  The car is amazing.   Lapping the entire field of the green group has got to be worth something.  I get to actually pass some single cars and we get a new quote of the moment from the instructor. “You’re about to pass a 100,000 car”.  Hope he enjoyed my dump tube.

I get back to the pits, feeling pretty happy. Pop the hood and see some acid around.  Harper whips out the voltmeter and give some testing.  HMM.  16 volts when the car is running is a bad thing, right?  Yikes, the alternator is cooking my electrical system.  (This is when we do the Scooby doo flashback to Sunday following the meeting)  I had picked up an alternator that I had let Chris Wirth borrow as a spare.  I wanted to have it just in case something happened with mine.  I am now a genius in my own mind, as I never have the right part when it is needed.   Tim and I pull the worlds fastest alternator change in history, and the car is once again ready to rumble for the next day.  Time for a few beers from the open bar and the food line at the glen club.   

Being surrounded by a bunch of Porsche drivers while changing the altenator at the end of the day was entertaining.  Apparently their cars don’t break, so we were quite a lot of entertainment.   Favorite dialog from that one went something like “How were you able to get an altenator so quick, I would have to wait weeks?  me- “we brought a spare of course”

Tuesday – We had driven 187 to the hotel, just to be sure all was right with the alternator. Since our pit spot was secure, an extra hour of sleep was called for. 

First run with the white group was awesome. In the morning they said that the course workers were going to start using blue flags to signal cars that aren’t giving the sign to pass.  Everybody in this group at least had been on the track before.  First run out got quicker and quicker.  My timing was getting better, I was setting up the turns nicely with the brakes and downshifts, and all was moving quick. Instructor gives me the thumbs up that I don’t need him in the car anymore, and he gets me bumped up to white and a half. (that’s the same class without the instructor)   I drop off the instructor, do a few laps around the pits to cool the brakes off, then stop in for some gas at the end of the garages.  Get some race gas in it, and notice coolant on the side of the car.  Mother F$#^@!.

Pull it back in the garage, and sure enough the overflow bottle is full to the top.  I look over at Tim, who seems to be having the same issue. 

Theories start running around. Tim managed to find a 16 lbs radiator cap at lunch, which seemed to do the trick for one run, but resurfaced on the last run. The crappy NAPA only had ONE. Mine never straightened out, though I continued to run.  The car ran strong the rest of the day and even had a few times running with Tim on the track.  He was nice enough to give me a dump tube or two.  It is definitely a lot easier to come up on a Porsche 944, pass it like it was standing still, and make it disappear in the rear view in seconds than it is dealing with the tri-color beast.  

I catch a glimpse of Tim when I first get on the track, but luckily he had some traffic to help me open the gap.  He has me by the time I am coming out of the bus stop and keeps with me down through the laces. I close my ears and give him “the finger” to pass coming out of the toe.  Dump tube isn’t that bad when your own car is loud.  Tim slowly fades away until the front stretch where he gets caught up with a few cars.  We get the double pass on one and head into the esses.  I could tell Tim was letting me hang, which I was ready to watch his line a little, but I charged him pretty good coming out of the esses and saw the blue flag beaming in his eye.  He gives me the point by.  I already had the momentum out of the esses, so I give him a little BOV and dump tube.   This moment of Tim getting the forced blue flag to make me pass would live on through storying telling for many years to come. 

My forth run I took the instructor back out, just because of my rapid learning curve, it was requested from the top.  He had nothing but compliments about the car and the driving, and offered a few helpful tidbits to get me through.  I ended the session early after I could tell the coolant was topped off and started to overheat again.  I took a last lap as a cool down, keep the pace of a 944 which was about 10 cars in my rear view.  Man he was slow.

Bring the car in, roll her on the trailer, and watch as the sprinkle of rain drops just start to come down.  Damn good timing.  

Definitely a blast to do.  I am so pleased with the way the car is handling with the suspension.  The car did pretty good for 215 street tires on it, making noise all the way.  Definitely going to be early on the list for next years event and can’t wait to get the car back to snuff with a battery relocation and some coolant investigation.

Great time, awesome people, fast cars.


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