Stranded In The Southland

Thursday, December 23, 2004

A Day at Buttonwillow

I don't often get out to do vroom-vroom stuff in my Miata, but my buddies Dennis and Peggy were putting on a passing school at Buttonwillow, and I just couldn't pass it up. The idea was to learn how to pass cars at the track, in a low-pressure, safe environment. I've done a number of track days, so I'm usually pretty comfortable getting around the track quickly, but I've always been hesitant to pass, even on the straights.

Dennis and Peggy have run track days for years, but they really aren't much into the business and promotional end of it. Unfortunately, they only got 16 students for this school (track days and schools usually have 60 to 80 students!). This meant that they almost certainly lost money on the event, which is a real shame, as they were already doing this out of the goodness of their hearts, because they thought it'd be fun for folks to have a passing school. I suspect that part of the problem was that it was happening the Sunday before Christmas.

Of course, the flip side of that is that we had almost unlimited time on an almost empty track. Yow! I'd only ever run at Thunderhill, but Buttonwillow proved to be a fun track. I had one of the fastest drivers there, Russ, as an instructor. The other student grouped with Russ was Greg, one of the faster students.

We started out in some pretty heavy fog, which slimed up the track pretty well. As I followed Greg and Russ around, I was clearly the slowpoke, but both of them were pretty cool about slowing down a bit for me. I managed to spin pretty well while heading around the "Lost Hills" turn by getting on the gas just as the car got light. Doh. Fortunately, I only skidded a little way into the sticky mud around there, and I was able to clean up the car in a few minutes and get ready for the next session on the track.

After a few more sessions, the track dried out a bit and my tires started to dig in a bit more. For those first few sessions, I was wondering if my recent alignment had been bad, or if my suspension was just too beat up to work, but as the day went on, I realized that it was mostly the loose nut behind the wheel that was the problem. I finally managed to speed up a bit and really feel comfortable sliding around the turns.

Unfortunately, it took so long to learn the track that I only learned a certainly amount of the passing stuff. That was good, as before I showed up I had no idea how to pass in curves, and by the end I had at least a slightly clearer idea. I certainly had a big-ass smile on my face from a fabulous day of zipping around the track!