Spokane International Raceway
Spokane, Washington, USA
July 17, 18 and 19, 2004
Each year, Conference tries to hold a race at a far-away track. Last year, it was down at Thunderhill. This year, we've returned to Spokane for a double-race weekend. These weekends are a real kick. The tow to the track is a little longer, but the extra mileage is rewarded with an extra day of racing.
It's also a little stressful. I've not visited Spokane Raceway Park before, and don't know the basics: where to stay, where to park my rig or stow my trailer, or so on. My apprehension was compounded by the news that the track would be very busy for our weekend; a test-and-tune wasn't available before the race weekend, so I'd have to come up to speed on the new course quickly. And we might not even have access to the track on the evening before the event in order to set-up our paddock spaces.
I arrived at the track around 3pm on Friday, expecting to wait in line until 5pm to join the rush for paddock space. The gates were open, and I was greeted by a really friendly guy who immediately explained where I could set up my pit and drop my trailer. Great!
Before 430pm, I was unpacked, set up, and ready to go. I went back to my hotel, which turned out to be very close to the track--I misunderstood the address and had thought it was on the other side of the city. I had dinner at a restaurant near the hotel, and called it a night.
On Saturday morning, I was at the track at 630am to take the novice track tour. I didn't even know where the grid or hot pits were. While that sounds absurd, most club racing tracks are very confusing and laid out for multiple uses. The track tour helped identify the basics, so I felt like I could get to the grid without causing a backup. But the tour was incredibly vague about the racing line. I couldn't see anything from my location inside the minivan we used, and the driver giving the tour didn't say much. I couldn't tell if he was wide of the line I anticipated because he was making a mistake, or for a good reason--to go a little tighter for some reason, or to avoid patches of bad pavement.
In my fourth session, I felt pretty comfortable with the track. The tightest turn in the back of the course gave me a little frustration, but I felt like I could get through the rest of the track efficiently. By finding and following other drivers who I knew had lots of experience at the course, I learned interesting features and little tricks. Compiling these bits into a fast lap wasn't that hard, and I qualified well.
On Sunday, I returned to the track ready to race. I felt confident enough of my knowledge of the course to really go for it, and tried to knit together consistent laps based on what I had learned on Sunday. I was fast enough in C Production, but I was still behind the faster guys in ITS.
During lunch, I bled my brakes. Fortunately, I discovered that I was missing a bolt on the right rear. One of the bolts that holds the brake caliper onto the wheel was missing! This caused the caliper to rock under braking, rubbing the thin edge of the rotor. I found some scoring, and some material was honed away from the caliper arch, but everything else was fine. Andy Collins has a huge bin of metric hardware on his trailer, and that saved me.
The ITS race went very well. The race started wet, adding an extra challenge to my new experience at Spokane. I got a decent start, and picked through a couple of cars in the field before the race ended. Lincoln Burns started just ahead of me, and I caught him and didn't see him again after the first few laps. Near the end of the race, I caught up with Scott Geddes, a Integra driver from Calgary. I managed to pass him in the last couple of laps.
Staying ahead of Burns and Son while also catching Scott was great result, but I'm a bit frustrated because I still can't catch up with Skip and Ron. Steve Cassel, in his well-sorted 325is, was almost a second faster than Ron! My car has the potential; I just need to get better with setup and tire management, I guess. And I must still be making subtle, but costly, mistakes when driving.
Perhaps the hardest part of learning a new track is sorting through all the advice my more experienced friends offer. They'll describe a part of the track, and since the road is very unfamiliar to me, I can't implement their advice well. If I try to, I might be doing exactly the wrong thing because I misunderstood their description!
The rain baked off in the sun, and the track became dry ... but the air was very humid. I was trying to stay ahead on my fluids, but was very drained. Fortunately, Jon Ament helped me swap my dry tires on before I had to go to the Group 1 grid to do my CP race.
C Production went really well. I could see Guy about a turn behind me on the slower parts of the track, but didn't make any mistakes and stayed ahead the whole race.
The best part of the day was not packing up: because of the double weekend, we got to race the next day! We all went out to dinner, including Jon's brother Jason and his wife Katie, plus another couple who were friends of Jon's brother.
On Monday, the weather was much more pleasant. While warmer than than 80 degrees at 8am, the humidity was gone and I wasn't nearly as drained after my practice sessions. I forced down as much water as I could, and that helped me immensely.
My ITS race was loads of fun. Lincoln stayed close for many laps, chasing me and then passing me before I could catch him again and get ahead. I saw Steve Geddes up ahead, so I worked on reeling him in. I did, but caught some lapped traffic at the same time. Within two laps, three cars ended up failing and stopping in the back section of the track. The steward decided to stop the race in order to expedite the cleanup an keep the day on schedule, and I was still on Steve's bumper.
Entering the straight right after Steve's Acura, I had to really push to catch him. I almost did, too; we finished side-by-side on the front straight! I think I might have just barely nosed him out, but my transponder is mounted towards the rear of my car and his is on the front bumper. Rats!
I really like Spokane Raceway Park. The track favors high-power cars like mine, and the high-speed sections are fun to drive. The car really gets its legs, and keeping speed up in the twisty sections requires a lot of courage. The track surface is in great shape, though it's hard to find enough markers to keep consistency up.
I can't wait to come back here!