MiataWorld II: Day Seven

by Alan J. Claffie

We'll start with the Cliff's Notes version: speed is cool, my tires are still terrible, people still don't know how to caravan to places, and Bob Hall is one funny guy.

Now for the details on Sunday. Alarm got us up at 6:20 AM and we were out the door to join the amazing amount of cars already assembled for the morning parade through sleepy downtown Grapevine, Texas and then on to Texas Motor Speedway. The parade went well, and we supposedly broke the world record for the biggest parade of Miatas EVAR. The previous record was 250 somewhere in New Zealand and today they're claiming 297.

They probably couldn't have accomplished this without a lot of police help. We trudged through the historic downtown at 8AM with some curious onlookers, and then hit the expressway to the track. After three days of caravans you'd think these guys would learn by now, you don't have to go Mach I on the highway. It would have been a far more impressive sight to run 5 or 10 MPH below the prevailing speed and stay together in our own lane, in light Sunday morning traffic, then to instantly run up to 80 MPH and quickly spread the group all over three lanes of highway.

Despite the above chaos we did make it to Texas Motor Speedway. First up was a group photo with hundreds of cars present. The group stretched from the entrance to the first turn to past the start/finish line and probably some distance beyond that, five wide. When the photo comes out we should be pretty easy to find as we were parked on the inside lane right where the Legends track meets the big oval's front straightaway, with Kate right alongside.

We had three opportunities to go fast, at least relatively speaking: oval, road course, and autocross. The oval was the NASCAR 1.5-mile banked tri-oval, and we were led around by a pace car that would keep us in check. We did three laps at a time and the speed was supposedly going to go up as we got better and demonstrated that we weren't going to do dumb things like hang back to get an uber-run down the backstretch, but more often than not someone in the middle of the dozen-car line would be wimpy and those behind would suffer because they couldn't get up to the same speed as the cars at the front of the line, and the pace car would slow to try and get everyone together so those up front suffer. On the plus side, we did see triple-digit speeds - TMS rules limited speeds to 100 MPH and I saw that on a few occasions, with some claiming seeing as high as 115, although we kinda doubt the truthiness of that.

The road course was a bit of a letdown. While we weren't expecting anything as serious as the full "roval" like some of these tri-ovals have, the one on hand was basically a slightly overgrown autocross course. We ran it a couple times, put up a decent time but it wasn't what I was expecting.

So we went to autocross. We got bit by the bug at Myrtle Beach in the spring and scratched that itch again today. The course was longer than the Myrtle Beach one, with the fast guys just sneaking under the 45-second mark. My first run was right at 50 seconds and - stop me in you heard this one before - I knew my tires weren't up to the task. This really hit home on the second run where I got behind on the steering through a fast left-right-left-right slalom and when all was said and done the car had spun out and I was facing the way I came from. No harm done, we got back in line and took a third shot which netted me a 48.something lap and at the time that was good enough for fifth out of seventeen in a fairly crowded "Modified" NB class. A third run found a little more speed despite the continuous sloppiness complete with a ridiculous amount of tire howl, and when we left I was third in class.

We went back inside the track to take another couple runs at the oval track, and that went well as I was near the front of the line each time and got to run a nice steady 90-95 MPH all the way around while those behind me were stuck behind someone less fearless and dropped back quite a bit. Things were winding down for the day so we took one more shot at autocross, picked up a little more time, but when all was said and done I was 8th best in class. If that puts me in the top half, I'll be happy. With more serious tires - which Kate is really pushing me to get - we could probably be pretty competitive in these low-key events tied to Miata gatherings. We're probably not ready for SCCA or local club autocrossing, but that doesn't mean we won't try.

Kate got up to speed autocrossing, too, but had trouble following a particular part of the course and that affected her learning curve a bit.

At the closing dinner we were treated to Bob Hall, the father of the Miata, giving a live version of his old "Ask Bob" column from the early days of miata.net. His posts on the forum are usually brief but packed full of wit and we got all of that and more in person. It was quite an improvement over last night's guest speaker, a woman from Mazda corporate who basically walked us through a Powerpoint presentation of Mazda embracing the whole rotary engine thing, when our little cars manage quite well without them.

We're back on the road tomorrow, heading east. In the spirit of the ride out we're slashing the number of destinations, in this case we're not going to make a side trip to Montgomery, Alabama to see how Hyundais are made. We'll head straight home, well, mostly straight with a little side trip to Deal's Gap to run the Tail of the Dragon again. It's that good.

More later.

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