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Toyota and the Decline of Driving

March 19th, 2010 No comments

Dear Toyota,

I am sorry. I am sorry that you have to sell your cars to a society that no longer knows how to to drive. I am sorry that there is somebody that exists out there that would sit back and let a car take them up to 90 MPH without realizing there is more a brake pedal and a gas pedal available to them. The fact that nobody had enough common sense to put the car in neutral, or even turn off the engine while that car sped up escapes me. I am also sorry that we hand out drivers licenses to anybody who asks for one and performs a 3 point turn…once.

This is not a complete pity party because the Toyota ABS does in fact suck. My wife and I have an 2008 FJ Cruiser, and last weekend I drove a friends 2005 4 Runner. Both vehicles experience the same crappy experience in the snow, which I can reproduce for you once the snow returns. Add a slight inclined hill and speed under 15 MPH, hit the brakes, and the car will not stop. The ABS goes through some sort of seizure maneuver and actually feels like it speeds up the vehicle by ignoring the next 5 seconds of input from the sensors. It may not seem significant at slow speeds, but on snowy roads, it means you are in the intersection if you don’t react to the braking failure. I realize these vehicles haven’t made the recall list…yet.

No two vehicles ever have the same experience driving. The first snowfall of the year we took the FJ Cruiser out and learned how it was going to react. Although we weren’t thrilled about the lack of ABS at low speeds, we modified our expectations and driving patterns to adjust.

Perhaps it is your fault for making the Prius too easy to drive. You have started to feed a condition that seems to be sweeping across america like an epidemic.

I was grateful to hear that you stood up for yourselves this week, disputing the claims from James Sikes regarding his runaway car…for 30 miles.

While it will be difficult to ever identify what really happened that day, I can tell you with confidence that it was not driving.

Categories: Automotive Tags:

Leveraging Facebook Pages

February 4th, 2010 No comments

Facebook allows anybody to start a Group or a Page, but is not until you have actually created one do you understand which direction to pick.

Adding a Facebook Page should be part of every business owners “list of free tools I should take advantage of on the Internet to enhance viral marketing”.  As of this post, you can not magically transform a group into a page without having some sort of VIP card into the support team of Facebook, so I wanted to offer some insight as to why your business should have a page setup.

Search Engine Journal has a nice comparison chart between a group and a page if you are still the fence about which one to choose.

From a marketing perspective, the Page offers a few distinct advantages.

  1. A page can be viewed by non Facebook members.  Among a list of reasons why that is powerful is the fact that it opens up the page to be indexed by the search engines.
  2. A page will provide statistical analysis in terms of users, time online, demographics, all in the form of what they call “Insights”.

Don’t laugh too hard that I have two empty graphs here.  I created this particular Facebook Page while I wrote this post. The idea is that I can return to you in 6 months and show you how to interpret the trends and turning them into useful information.  That is of course if I get anybody to add the page.

Last year we took an epic journey into the racing world by establishing a team to run in the One Lap of America.  We started a Facebook group, allowing us to coordinate members of that group, schedule meeting events, and create some communication paths for people to follow us.  We didn’t know it then, but what we needed was a page.

Facebook Page of RochesterDSM One Lap Team

While we were not a business, we wanted to use the page for the same reasons, which was to promote our escapades across the country.

The Facebook Page becomes a free extension of your own website, allowing you to have instant access to a photo gallery, discussion boards and resources that allow fans of your product to keep up to date and help spread the word.

Updating the page is amazingly easy for a team traveling across the country with limited internet access, as they allow you to even post updates by providing you with an email address.  Setting up the page to tie back into Twitter and becomes quite a useful resource for getting information updates published.

If you own a business, setup a Facebook Page. If you want to promote a brand, setup a Facebook Page.  If you want to have closed door meeting, allowing select members into those meetings without the prying eyes of the Internet, setup a Facebook Group.

Categories: Automotive, IT Perspectives Tags:

Watkins Glen – Fall PCA 2009 Trip Report

October 14th, 2009 No comments

A few beers at the Seneca Lodge Sunday night and the Monday morning wakeup came early.  The word for this entire trip will be COLD.  It could have been negative 20 for all I know, but I know it was cold.   Tires were cold, making my limited tread feel like grease, and I found myself huddled in the car instead of wandering the paddock.  The cold air however was like cat nip to the turbo, bringing it to a new heightened state of preparedness.  No worries of over heating and no heat saturation on intercoolers today.

I made it through registration to find out that Tim was my instructor, a position he got without even requesting.  It is hard being in the driver seat with Tim instructing.  Tim knows how I drive and some of my areas I need help on, so like an annoying personal trainer, he makes me work harder into those areas and easily finds my faults.  Where I have a passive approach in a lot of areas, Tim will get me to drive the car in harder than I normally would, watching how I handle the situations.

There is one piece missing however, and that is Tim hasn’t driven this car.  This is where I would “monolog” for about 30 minutes praising the engineers at Mitsubishi.  I will summarize however by saying that I am not even close to pushing this car.  For the early sessions I sandbagged the brakes, mostly because I was on questionable tires and it was cold.  That leads into the highlight, which was making Tim cringe.   We received the late pass signal going into turn 1 after we had some healthy speed out of the front stretch.  Appreciating the late pass, I wanted to make sure it was not in vein, so dove the car towards the corner and hit the gas.  Tim moves into a position that resembles a cat, trying claw for traction before heading into the water.  A tight squeeze of the brakes and the car drops into the corner effortlessly, I reset angles for exit and nail the gas.

The brakes bring a tear to the eye.  No really, you lay into those things and you almost loose consciousness.  It is freakin sweet.   I can’t convey how much more braking I have to the guy sitting in the passenger seat, so it takes a longer time to gain their confidence in the car.

With some great sessions, I get the sign off to solo for the last session of the day and tick off some great laps.

The Track Walk

At the end of the first day of the Fall PCA event at Watkins Glen, they setup a track walk. It really was a drive to each turn, hop out and talk about it, more than a walk.  There was no way we were going to survive the cold weather walk, so it was a great alternative.

Watkins Glen PCA Fall 2009 3787

After seeing the option to jump in the back of a cold pickup truck, I asked if I could just take some people out in the car.  Brilliant move on my part, I must say.  Besides rifling off pictures of the car on the track, it had a heater that was blessed by the turbo gods that day, making the trip out there a little less painful.

The angles of the track are so drastic, yet you never recognize them behind the wheel at 140.  The surfaces of the track are deadly to understand.  They must have had a sale on sealer for some of the pavement areas.  Being able to see the textures of the different surfaces put some better understanding in how to approach some of the lines and offered some alternatives for the wet weather.

While Jim talked about each turn, I was glad to hear he agreed that a lot of the “suggestion” cones were mis-placed on the track.  I have found myself moving the turn in points to get later into the turns going both into the laces and out of the off camber.

The Reliability Factor

I had some lofty goals this summer to make the car faster, most of which turned into dust with some financial strains.  While the car received a clean $10 air filter and a boost gauge which I already had in the garage, it was relatively stock.  The car did not miss a beat and was an absolute blast to drive.  The cold air helped the turbo coming out of “the boot” and it had enough to overtake most everything in the white group, with the exception of the Z06 running slicks.

Watkins Glen PCA Fall 2009 3762The other two teammates however were not so lucky.  Chris had some turbo  problems into the second day, indicating that the larger turbo on the car was shot.  While we mocked that he received car number 13, it certainly was unexpected for what is a relatively new turbo setup.  He had to call off the last sessions of the second day, but got to drive the car home with no boost pressure.

Watkins Glen PCA Fall 2009 3775The Galant VR4 has this tendency to remind everybody that it is an 18 year old car.  If it had a foot, you could almost visualize it kicking Tim square in the family jewels on a regular basis. While the rest of the paddock looks organized, the VR4 needs a constant barrage of work after every run, turning the area into a trama center.

The car has a blown head gasket.  While the temperatures remained cool, the pressure would add air to the system, pushing the coolant to the overflow bottle, causing Tim into a routine of dumping the overflow back into the radiator between sessions.  He ran low boost and made relatively tame laps.  It was a good thing because the water injection wasn’t working right anyway.

Tim cracked a rotor on the second session of the first day, and spent the lunch hour replacing the front rotors and putting things back together.  So that Tim could take a minute to eat the sandwhich we grabbed for him, I went to take the car out for a spin to bed the brakes in.  I made it 10 feet, the car died and wouldn’t start.  Long story short, the MPI fuse was blowing, a result of the O2 sensor wire melting and shorting out on the manifold.

The almost final straw is the throttle body breaking on the last session before we go home.  The bar that crosses the throttle body and mounts the throttle plate corroded through and snapped.  It looks like one screw was missing for a while, and it fatigued it’s way out with a little corrosion help over time. Through a miracle of DSM availability, the Archer Racing built Talon was on site with Greg Sterman becoming the savior of the day.  After the last run of the day and the talon in the trailer, Greg let Tim take his throttle body off, so that he could drive the car home.

After surviving that beating, we got on the road a few hours late for home, being the last to leave the paddock.  A few miles down the road, I told Tim to pull over because his chains were dragging on the trailer.  They were dragging because the trailer hitch assembly had let go, breaking the welds that held it to the rusted bumper.  This would be another kick in the jewels area, especially after surviving the throttle body incident.  After emptying the entire trailer on the side of the road and shoving it back into cars, an extension cord acted as a torsion bar to keep the hitch in place for the trip home.

If it were a horse, the car would have been put down a few times over.  Even Tim, who finds his pride in squeezing out the most bang for his buck, looked tired after this weekend.  That man needs an Evo for Christmas.

The PCA

The more I attend the events, the more I am impressed with how well they run the group.  Everything from coordinating food on the site to getting TSX Sports to make everybody a quality looking event shirt, it really is a bargain to get onto Watkins Glen.  While I don’t own a Porsche and probably don’t intend to in my lifetime, the group makes you feel like family.

They had a driving simulator company come out and show off a motion based simulator driving none other that Watkins Glen.  They should have picked a different track, because it felt off in some of the dimensions and I couldn’t drive it worth a crap.

Late Passing Drills

The PCA has adopted a more progressive, say it realistic, approach to track driving. The early run groups (white, green) were put through 10 minutes of “late passing” drills, in which it enforced slower cars to give late pass signals into turns and faster cars to learn to adapt to a different turn approach and exit.   In the fall, this didn’t exactly go smooth.  With some feedback from last time and some clear instruction in what was expected, this turned out to really progress things along.

Categories: Automotive Tags:

Uncorking the Evo X

August 21st, 2009 No comments

Mitsubishi Evolution and Respect VR48789After having a 1992 car as my newest vehicle, moving to a 2008 Mitusbishi Evo X was quite a jump in technology.  For those of you not familiar with modern day import tuning techniques, there are a lot of available resources that will allow you to alter or modify how the computer in the car controls the car itself. I consider the Mitsubishi Evolution X to be the Mr. Potato head of import tuning.  That is to say once you have the methodologies figured out, you can change out parts on the car relatively easy and adjust the computer to recognize the difference.

Tuning EvoX Chris WirthDiving into the fuels maps, timing adjustments and throttle settings of a car is not some place you want to wander alone for the first time. I was lucky enough to enlist a guide along this first attempt as Chris Wirth offered up almost an entire day one weekend to explain the ins and outs of tuning the Mitsubishi Evo X.  While Chris does not own a shop, I consider his opinion to be above and beyond what most shops comprehend about this car for one predominant reason: He is data logging everything the car does, every day, all the time.   (I am pretty sure he has been doing this since birth)  I first met Chris in 1997, when I found him using a 386 laptop to tune his 1996 Eclipse at the time, using some ODBII software I had never heard of.  The Evolution X has marked a rebirth for Chris, as I see him digging once again into learning everything he can about this new car.  If the name is not familiar, you may know him as “hiboost” on many of the online forums.  He also just took first place at the 2009 DSM Shootout in the Evolution X class.

From the Factory

The Mitsubishi Evolution X is an amazing car, period.  I was able to get the car out to Watkins Glen twice so far after almost owning it a year, and out of the box it drives and handles amazing.  When it come to putting power to the ground however, Mitsubishi takes quite conservative approach to tuning this car for street use.  One could say the power is being strangled out of the car.  By having overly rich fuel maps in inappropriate power ranges, the car under-performs for every day driving.  It has the same hesitation feeling of when you turn your air conditioning on and take off from the light.

Uncorked

EvolutionX UncorkedUsing the Tactrix OpenPort cable combined with the latest version of ECUFlash and EvoScan, Chris was able to manipulate everything from fuel delivery to timing curves.

The result was an approximate 22 hp gain, without changing any physical components of the car, with less boost.  Adding a manual boost controller and re-adjusting will easily put the car into a 30 HP gain.  You can actually tune the boost from the ECU, but it is a derivative of 3 different tables, based off of engine loads.  Frankly it becomes a lot easier to turn a dial.  Regardless of our power estimates, the car is a new completely new car to drive.  It is responsive, smoother and more consistent throughout the power band. There is no hesitation and car drives like it should have when Mitsubishi handed over the keys.

Cookbook

There are already plenty of resources online to get you going with tuning the Evolution X.  Most of the resources have been published on the Evolution M forums.  Keep an eye out for Chris to summarize them all soon, and consider hiring Chris to tune your car for you if it is a little overwhelming. Not only does he give you a baseline tune that will be easy to upgrade from, but he takes the time to give you the resources for you to tune yourself.

The alternatives to tuning yourself or hiring Chris to do the work are to send your ECU in to one of the larger shops to have them tune it.  Many of them claim 50HP gains for the minor cost of $500.  While I can not dis-prove their results, I have seen the tune that Chris first had on the car after paying to have it done.  Not only is the power mis applied, but the gains were not even close to the published amounts.  It’s amazing how you can make your own numbers look good when you own your own dyno.

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Living in a One Lap cloud

May 18th, 2009 No comments

I read about it all the time when somebody starts up a blog, only to find a few months later they abandon it.  They know it is the cool thing to have, perhaps even have something to say, but then something pulls them away from it, never to be heard from again.  That is not at all what happened to me. For myself the past month has been a blur, because I have been writing updates on my daily activities to most of the automotive planet.

img_6965This year I participated in the One Lap of America, which is the modern day legalized version of the Cannonball, started by Brock Yates over 26 years ago.  To be apart of this years event was amazing. The fashion in which we made it happen turned out to be awe inspiring.

Within 4 months, we transformed my 1992 Galant VR4 into a track car, complete with the same paint scheme that Mitsubishi used in their Mines rally car from the period. For myself, it was a perfect send off for a car that I have enjoyed for so many years.  I will admit, I was not looking forward to taking a 3000+ mile trip around the country in a 17 year old car, until we gathered the backing of the online community behind us.  The outpouring of support and enthusiasm from the people around the country changed the event for us forever.  It turned it into an event which began as 4 friends coming together to make it all happen, to a community of supporters helping us along every step of the way.

We gained so much publicity, and had so many supporters online, that my efforts went into keeping everybody updated online. It was time consuming, but I loved every minute of it.  Regardless, it why my own personal website has taken a back seat to the updates.   I am back now, and encourage you to catch up with my adventures on One Lap by reading, seeing and watching all about it from our One Lap blog.

http://onelap.rochesterdsm.orgOne

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The Mitsubishi History of Stephen (round 2)

March 17th, 2009 No comments

The first Galant VR4 I found I bought from a lady in Bristol, NY.  I had actually been driving home in little East Rochester, and the car was outside of a repair shop with a few people walking around it.  Knowing how rare the car was and never expecting to see one in the wild, I immediately turned around to investigate.  

The woman had hit a deer with the car, and was getting some estimates to get it repaired.  I interrupted the whole process long enough to give her my name and phone number and said if she would like to sell the car “as is” I would be interested.  A week later I was the owner of 1168/2000.

The car became my daily driver and with some minor hood and headlight repair, was back to a respectable looking sedan.  The car was completely bone stock but it was quite a luxurious upgrade from my VW station wagon I had been using as a winter car. 

galant-vr4-187-may-2004-04893

 

 

The story of 187

I was active on quite a few DSM message boards in the 90s and remember we had quite an active group here in Rochester at the time as well.  Dave Buschur posted up a notice that he had a Galant VR4 for sale.  The short version of the story is that behind Dave’s shop was a nice plot of land he had always wanted, which had just gone up for sale.  In order to raise the funds for the land, he was offloading this car, which was an “in progress” project.  Supposedly the car was being built up for a magazine article, until the magazine backed out.  In essence it was a clean 1992 car, with a stock motor, with every piece every boy wants under the Christmas tree attached onto it.  I originally wasn’t going to buy the car, but when the buyer that I had helped line up in the area backed out, I stepped in.

 The trip down to get the car is one that can only be appreciated in a bar, with both myself in Mike Hayes in the room.  Picture the family 1980 van, towing a construction trailer back from Ohio, with the front of the van a few feet higher than the rear.  Then picture Mike in the front seat on a laptop, while we tried to stop at Kinkos along the way for him to upload reports to work. (before broadband wireless existed)  Needless to say I don’t think we gave Dave much confidence when we pulled up in the van.

I couldn’t afford the car, so I ended up selling off 1168/2000 when I got it the first year. One of the local members bought 1168/2000, which eventually headed somewhere in New England.

The most painful, yet fun thing I had to do was to drive 187/1000 through the first winter I had it.  The car had come with a complete HR Springs and AGX shock suspension but it was still in the box and I wasn’t about to let the salt takes its toll.  The car had a ridiculous sized 60 trim equivalent turbo on it, Buschur’s full race front mount, and it was setup with a VPC to run fuel with 660 injectors.  It ran absolutely pig rich, leaving smoke screens of fuel behind me on every exit ramp, but it was so much fun to drive. It was laughable to see people’s expression when you had somebody in the passenger seat.  With a stock suspension, you could raise the front of the car almost two feet with a nice breath squeezing level of acceleration. 

187 Engine SwapSummer came, and I found myself still driving 187/1000 over the Eclipse.  The suspension went into the car, making it squat nice and it actually learned to turn more than just be straight line car. I had found another junk car for the following winter, but I ended up putting a “for sale sign” on the Eclipse which didn’t sell until the next spring.  I split the money I had from the Eclipse sale and dumped it all into the motor and transmission of the Galant. With a solid power plant and a drive train to support it, the car became lethal to drive on the street.

 I eventually bought another Galant VR4 from Bruce Perry, the SCCA rally driver, which became the daily and winter driver.  New parts went to 187 while the leftover parts went to 199/1000.  187 received a nice coil over Tein suspension, while 199 received the HR springs and AGX shocks. 

 In 2003, I was able to take the 187/1000 to Watkins Glen.   You need to relive that trip report to appreciate how epic the trip was for me.  It would bring me back to the Glen a few more times, but nothing could have built up the pride I felt driving that car around. 

Life kicked in shortly after, as I settled into a beutiful house with my best girl.  It turns out she would become my wifre in 2007, and without touching the car in 4 years, it has been difficult to keep up with the project of finishing it off.   My wife, recognizing my shriveling grasp on my automotive nitch in the world, convinced me to buy a 2008 Mitsubishi Evo X.  With the new toy in the garage, it was my intention to sell the parts off of 187/1000 , and send the shell to a good home for a modest price.   

Then Tim came up with the need to run One Lap of America in 2009, so the car went through a transformation.  The prestine and slowly evolving car I once knew has transformed into a full on track car, using most of Tim’s parts along the way. 

 

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Mitsubishi History of Stephen (round 1)

March 6th, 2009 No comments

The first Mitsubishi I owned was a 1996 GS-T.  I bought it new, and it was my first new car that I had ever purchased.  It was of course before I found out that there was a certain addition that came with AWD, but I certainly showed the car a lot of love.  Being the first year out of college with a solid job, the car quickly became my life.  It would get a daily hand wash after work and a fresh wax every weekend.  I spent a lot of time reading and understanding the car DSM line of cars, while enjoyed adding a certain level of uniqueness to the car itself. 

I remember tearing apart the entire dash, just to trim out and install a digital gauge to display boost, embedded in the dash.  I had never seen it before, but I knew that’s how I would do it.  I added many more custom items onto the car over time.  I created my own stainless expanded metal grill, because the generic ones looked cheap.  I hand molded the center vents in the car to hold the car’s air fuel computer, only to find two years later that somebody created a kit for that. I did a lot of things that made me happy and made other people wonder how I did it.White Face Gauges and Digital Boost

I adopted the name of NRVOUS for my online presence, because of the way I treated this car.  It was actually my sister who pointed it out first as she said that I was more anal than the guy who owned the Ferrari in Ferris Buehler’s day off.  You may have not recognized the reference, but NRVOUS was on the license plate of the Ferrari.  The plates were already taken, so I purchased NY plates with 2NRVOUS on them for the car.

Performance wise, the car was naturally fast for the street.  It evolved into upgrades that now seem tame.  With basic modifications of a 16G turbo and a front mount intercooler, the car was nothing short of legendary around town, in the late 90s.  I even took second place in the DSM shootout for the FWD class the first year I went.  It would be the last year the car would be competitive, because shortly after larger turbos became cheap, and tuning them became even easier.

I never pursued putting more power to the car, because it didn’t have any place to apply the power.  Being FWD, it would just spin tires whenever possible, so it really wasn’t worth it to me to make anything more out of it than what it had become.

I never stopped liking the look of the 2G Eclipse, but I definitely fell in love with something else.  The first thing I fell in love with was traction.  While I had always know that AWD was a large advantage of getting power to the ground, I wouldn’t appreciate it until I drove one for myself daily.   It would ultimately be my love for AWD that would extinguish my desire to choose the pristine Eclipse over a 

vent-mount-afc

grocery getter 4 door.  I also matured a lot.  The quaint blue highlights I added to the interior, along with the bright racing harnesses no longer appeared cool.  Although they were done with taste, they were for show, and not for actual performance.  Pulling along side of a car that you knew was fast is one thing, but driving in a car that was faster than them all without being seen was god like.   

 

More pictures can be found on my Picasa Web Albums

http://picasaweb.google.com/StephenJamesBurke/2nrvous#

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Self Bio written

February 4th, 2009 No comments

I had to write up my Automotive centric bio today for One Lap. Very weird experience, but it did make me at least start the one for this site. Here is what the official automotive bio looks like.

Stephen in Racesuit

Born the son of a mechanic, Stephen Burke grew up in East Rochester, NY moving in and out of auto shops instead of daycare. When it came to turning wrenches for a living, it was clear that James Burke intended his son to choose a different a profession outside of turning wrenches. Stephen’s father brought home a computer for the family, on the Kodak employee program, and this is where Stephen found his calling.

Today at age 33, Stephen is the supervisor for Information Technologies for a global manufacturing company based in Rochester, NY. While technology may have become Stephen’s main passion, it is in the garage where Stephen still finds peace.

In 1997 Stephen returned to Rochester after living in KY, and established the Rochester DSM auto club, which is still active today. The first DSM he owned was a 1996 Eclipse GS-T, until he found his first Galant VR4. He would eventually own 4 of these limited edition machines, selling the Eclipse and falling in love with the four door platform. The limited edition car numbered 187/1000 was the focus vehicle, running laps at Watkins Glen and running around Rochester as a four door street sleeper.

In 2008, Stephen bought a Mitsubishi Evolution X, which has taken the parking spot of the overhauled Galant VR4. For Stephen there is no better commemoration for the Galant VR4 than to run it in One Lap of America with three fellow friends and enthusiasts.

Stephen currently lives in Penfield NY with his wife Julie, where he is planning to build a new barn to outfit his complete set of Mitsubishi specialty tools. When he is not in the garage, Stephen is on the water, where he the member of a local club focused on competition water skiing.

www.stephenjburke.com

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One Lap Announcements

February 2nd, 2009 2 comments

I am very excited to be running in the One Lap of America this year with two great friends. The announcement went out this weekend to the various groups, and we are now feeling the echo of how many people we reach when talking on the Internet.

Official Notice of our Entry
http://www.rochesterdsm.org/forums/viewtopic.php?f=11&t=6043

Galant VR4 187/1000
It is evident that we will have reached a couple hundred thousand people, from wall posts, Facebook groups, forum notices, and twitter accounts alone. That is good news for us, as the first thing we really need is a big money sponsor to help us pay for the trip. Outside of the basic entry fees, we need to have additional insurance, full race suits, SA approved helmets, tires specifically ordered for the event before we even talk about gas and hotel stays.

The trip itself should be nothing short of Epic for me. As every child did my age, I grew up with the 6 foot long poster of the Lamborghini above my bed, after memorizing the Cannonball run films.

More than anything, I am excited to be able to go on this event with the technology we have today. I am going to work hard to stream video along the trip, and have people tuning into our efforts along the way. Never before have we been able to support such technology, and it is truly amazing.

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2003 Watkins Glen Trip Report

June 7th, 2003 No comments

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.

Stephen

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