MiataWorld II: Day Five

by Alan J. Claffie

We got our first taste of racetrack driving today. We started out gathering in a lot designated for staging drivers leaving for planned activities, and left that lot in a neat and tidy line of Miatas. But once we hit the highway, order turned into disorder as the little cars were changing lanes haphazardly, missing exits and other turns, and generally not exactly acting like a group of people all headed to the same place at about the same time. It wouldn't be that bad, except we left our event book with all the directions in the hotel room and were depending on following the crowd to make it to our destination, but the crowd seemed to get smaller and smaller as traffic intervened and guys took off and we got caught by red lights, etc etc.

But we made it to the Motorsports Ranch, somewhere outside Fort Worth, in fine fashion. This place is a ten year-old motorsports country club: you pay $3,400 to start your membership, $95 a month dues, and on every day they run you pay $20 per session to get on the track and go fast. Skip Barber is trying to do something similar at Lime Rock Park but his price of entry is $100K. If they put up a place like this within a couple hours of the Washington D.C. area they'd have far more takers than they could handle, I imagine. I'd probably be one of them.

Anyway they were going to let us play on the track during their lunch break. They broke us into three groups and lined each behind an instructor in a high-horsepower Miata. If we were good and demonstrated that we could hang with the pace car, it would speed up. Not wanting to get caught up in the accordianizing that happens at the back of long lines of cars, we jumped as soon as lines started forming and wound up being the second car behind the pace car, behind our close personal friend James Pou.

We hit the 1.7-mile track and started going pretty quick right out of the gate. The track's a beauty, tight corners in sections and a few stretches where a Miata can really stretch its little legs. We were doing a good job of not getting strung out and the pace picked up, but we were catching the tail end of the group in front of us. The instructor slowed us all down so he could get another half-lap at speed before running into traffic again, and after ohhh fifteen minutes we were back on pit road, fun time was over.

For this exercise we left the Mazdaspeed at the hotel and just took the '99. It handled the road course fairly well except I forgot to turn the adjustable shocks up from 'highway' to 'kill' setting, and I was reminded how much the cheap Kuhmo Ecsta AST tires I bought last year really don't like being pushed that hard - tell me if this sounds a lot like what I was saying as we were leaving the Gap earlier in the week.

Our buddy James, who probably wouldn't have been let on Texas Motor Speedway on Sunday because his tires were showing signs of being worn past the acceptable mark, spent the morning getting four Falkens fitted to his Icy Blue '08. Seeing how well that worked, Kate started working on me to spend my Saturday morning getting new tires better suited for going fast so I'd be in better shape on Sunday as well. But I can't do that. The Kuhmos, while being pretty sloppy when asked to tackle the twisties, are still very close to new - if they've got much more than 8,000 miles on them I'd be surprised - and I can't fathom throwing away fully treaded tires just because they're not very good on the five or six days out of the year where their shortcomings become apparent. They'll wear out eventually, and then we'll move on to something a little more aggressive. Rock-hard tires aren't all that necessary on a 6,000 mile-a-year car.

Tomorrow we have a couple activities planned. First we'll try (keyword: try) to caravan with a bunch of cars to the Cavanaugh Museum, home of some old airplanes and stuff, and we'll have our cars' pictures taken with a Warbird. In the afternoon, we'll take our shot at the fun rally and see if we can't win some valuable prizes with our mad rallying skillz. Saturday night is the big bash at the Gaylord where one of us lucky participants will win a new 2010 Miata. Like we need another car.

More later.

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