May 11 - Virginia : Dominion Raceway Park

I woke up at 630am - 8 hours of sleep in the bag! I felt positively supercharged with energy. Dressing quickly, I went and looked out the window to find the forecast had come true- it was absolutely pouring down rain. Dad and Taylor would be staying at the hotel for the morning session to get rested, cleaned up, and stay out of the wet. I would head over to the track, do the morning race, then come get them at lunch, as we did in Atlanta.

Not dry.

Not dry.

I didn't know if the race track had garages, like some of the previous ones, but I planned to be at the track super early to try and get a spot, just in case they did. I grabbed a bagel and some coffee at the breakfast buffet and was out the door before 7am. Dad and Taylor would swing by to get my suitcase out of the room later, so I didn't even have to wrangle that to get to the track.

I wasn't the only one with the same idea; the hotel lobby and parking lot were busy with competitors. I hopped in the car and made my way across the interstate to the track- Dominion Raceway in Thornburg, VA. Damn it was wet. I guess we'd find out how the Volvo did in the rain! Theoretically it should be good- plenty of weight and all-wheel drive. The wet skid pad showed we had decent wet traction, too, so if we didn't place well, it would be 100% my fault. Which is nice.

I was one of the first few at the track- yay! But, no garages. Boo. So now I was at the track more than 3 hours before my run group, in the rain, without my team.

At least I wasn't working on the ground...

At least I wasn't working on the ground...

I decided to be social and parked next to one of the few people there- car #7, a very well driven, lightly modified $120,000 650hp supercharged 2015 Corvette Z06. They were 6th place overall. The driver was on the ground in a puddle, working on the front corner of the car. His co-driver stood beside him in the rain. 

It was still raining as I parked and started to unpack. Because of the rain, and the fact that my camera isn't waterproof, I wasn't able to take many pictures of the day- sorry about that.

The first thing I did was make a break for Dad's magical EZ-up. It did great in the sun, now we would test the rain performance. I had my rain jacket on, a last minute $20 Costco purchase. It paid for itself quickly.

As soon as I had the shade up, I introduced myself to the co-driver-in-the-rain. It was Tina, the wife of the Corvette driver named Chris. I told Tina to please make use of the shade/rain cover/EZ-up; there was plenty of space for everyone. She was incredibly grateful and I was no longer by myself! As we introduced ourselves, another Corvette pulled up- this time an early 2000's Z06. The two people in this car, Chris (another one) and Jennifer, were good friends with the Corvette folks I'd just met; all four of them were from Oklahoma City and had been racing together for years. In fact, the Corvette that Chris came in used to belong to Chris, who came in the Corvette. They shared a mutual friend who helped them with their race Corvettes, Chris, who was back in Oklahoma. None of whom should be confused with our friend in the MR2, Chris.

I'm not making this up.

Oklahoma Chris's friends, Oklahoma Corvette Chris and Oklahoma Corvette Chris.

Oklahoma Chris's friends, Oklahoma Corvette Chris and Oklahoma Corvette Chris.

I tried to make it known that the EZ up was open to all, so we had a pretty solid group of people coming and going as the rain stopped and started. It was fun to meet a new group of people- most of them from the fast part of the race.

Chris in the blue, older Corvette had a problem at Road Atlanta and crashed pretty hard into the wall, breaking a bunch of components in the right rear of the car. They would have been out of the event, but an unlikely series of fortuitous events meant they were able to keep limping along. Some kindly man near Road Atlanta had a graveyard of crashed Corvettes, and he offered up some parts to allow Chris to continue. They had been running quite near the front, but the dilapidated state of the car meant they were now running much more cautiously and mostly just hoping to complete the event. But they were here!

As everyone finished unpacking for the day, Brock, the race organizer, called a meeting to discuss the day.

Meeting time.

Meeting time.

We were originally scheduled to do the morning and afternoon sessions, as we had been doing, plus an event on a small NASCAR-style oval. Brock explained that because it was wet, we would not be doing the oval. Too slippery with no run-off area, so too dangerous. The morning and afternoon sessions would continue as normal. The crowd dispersed to prepare for the first run.

On my way back, guess who I ran into- Chris and Mike Lin in their MR2! They'd pulled an all-nighter to get back; the problem was a bad catalytic converter. The element inside had detached from the walls of the container, so it was tumbling around in the exhaust and blocking the flow- no wonder they were down on power. Overnight, they had disassembled the converter, removed the offending material, welded it back together, then reinstalled everything to make it back. They even did some tuning to get everything running nicely on the way to the track. Nice work guys! You can read about their adventure here: Chris+Mike+MR2

It was rainy and there was standing water on the track, but as they made their way back to the pits after their morning run, the fast guys mentioned there was a decent amount of grip on track. I guess I'd find out for myself.

Tonight's drive from Dominion to the next track, Gingerman in Michigan, was over 700 miles. With that in mind, I made my way up a bit early, to try to get in an earlier run group. That way, we could leave a bit earlier than usual. My plan succeeded, and I ended up about 3 runs groups higher than normal- score!

I watched a bit of the front straight as cars went by, and soon it was my turn to go out for the morning session. It was still raining. Here's the video from the morning:

47th place! And that includes having to slow way down in the second turn because the Factory Toyota team spun, causing the yellow flag. The Volvo felt great and I was happy with our result.

I stopped briefly back by our pit space to drop off the helmet, then made my way back across the freeway to pick up Dad and Taylor at the hotel. I stopped first for gas, that way we could get on the road quickly after the afternoon session. Dad and Taylor were ready to go when I arrived.

Taylor and Dad were pumped about our placing in the morning, too.

None of us had eaten anything all day. I hadn't seen anything available to eat at the track, so we decided to stop by the Taco Bell in the parking lot, grab something to go, then eat at the track.

Dad hadn't eaten Taco Bell in about 20 years, and now he was having it for the second time in a day; Taylor and he had eaten some after I went to bed the night before. Dad's so lucky like that. Taylor and Dad got XXL burritos and I got a quesadilla. The food was ready, and we popped across I-95 to the track and unloaded.

The track staff had opened up some of their facility to let people get out of the rain, so we decided to park in the area and head inside. Turns out, they have some sort of indoor music venue, for concerts; they're going for total entertainment destination: road race course, race oval, music venue, go kart track, and bar and grill.

Parked in front of the concert hall.

Parked in front of the concert hall.

We assumed everyone would be inside eating, but there was literally not a single person in there. Strange, but we found a table and ate our Taco Bell in peace and dryness; no complaints. Well, except I didn't get a quesadilla. I got some sort of burrito, which actually was better than the quesadilla I planned. So no complaints then.

Delicious?

Delicious?

At some point, Dad went to find a bathroom. He found an elevator near the bathroom. An elevator that led to the bar and grill. 

Where the party was raging. They had food, drinks, music, etc. All right above our heads as we ate Taco Bell in silence. Whoops.

Well shit - there's the party.

Well shit - there's the party.

We settled in and visited with friends.

The wife of one of the top drivers, Ann, stopped Taylor to chat for awhile. She was with her husband, Andy, in the new Nissan GT-R. In fact, they still had the paper plates on the car. They'd bought the car on Monday in Austin, TX, driven to South Bend, IN by Wednesday, got the 1,000 miles service on Thursday, then were stickered up and registered on Friday.

Originally, they'd planned on bringing a 2012 McLaren 12C.

McLaren 12C - image credit: https://www.pinterest.com/sigmararo/

McLaren 12C - image credit: https://www.pinterest.com/sigmararo/

Unfortunately, the McLaren had continued a streak of misbehaving. It broke the Friday before One Lap and needed repair. Ann was furious with that car, telling us that it had experienced over $90,000 in warranty repair work during their ownership. Andy, who was doing the track driving, had already come to hate the GT-R- Ann told us that it was for sale if we were interested. Not even 2 weeks old! He'd been having problems with the electronics on track, causing huge losses in time.

Soon the call was made to start the afternoon session. It was still wet, but the rain had stopped. It would be a bit drier this time around. Taylor and Dad decided to stay and watch from the bar, which was covered and dry with a good view of the track. I headed back to the pits to pack up and get ready for the afternoon run. We wanted to get out of there as quickly as possible to start on the 12 hour drive.

Since I didn't really unpack all that much, due to rain, it was pretty quick to get packed back up and ready to go, so I took some footage of some fast cars. Even in the wet, they move along purdy good.

With a shorter track and some hustling officials, our turn came up quickly. I slotted in line behind Pete in his C5 Corvette Z06, and in front of the Dubler crew in their HHR's. The high spot in the run groups meant we would get out of the track nice and early!

A ferocious clan of HHR's.

A ferocious clan of HHR's.

Yo Pete.

Yo Pete.

And we were off! Here's the video from the afternoon session. Always searching for a new camera angle, what do you think?

We placed 47th again! The conditions were drier, so everyone was a bit faster. The Volvo ran great, again.

I drove to the pits, packed up the driving suit and helmet, hooked up the trailer, and drove up to meet Dad and Taylor near the bar and grill.

No exaggeration, we were driving out of the track less than 15 minutes after I'd finished on track- it was 1:45pm. We'd become seasoned pros! On the road to Michigan, we were pretty pleased with the day so far, but it was 700 miles to the next stop.

A normal route would have taken us up near Washington D.C., but traffic was super bad. Brock had planned for this and suggested a squirrelly alternative route that went pretty far west of DC. We decided to give his route a shot, and it wasn't too far off the traditional route before Google recognized and suggested that this was, in fact, a much faster route.

After around 170 miles, we decided to take a quick stop for food and fuel. The gas gauge still wasn't working, and we weren't sure how much fuel was burned on the track. Better to be safe than sorry. Towns at this point were few and far between, so we settled on the cluster of gas stations and fast food restaurants at the bizarre intersection of I-70 and I-76 in Pennsylvania. I say bizarre, because 70 goes over the top of 76, then ends at a stoplight. You then have to putter your way through 300 yards of town, and get on a cloverleaf on-ramp to 76 west. I guess they didn't feel like paying for an interchange?

I thought we wanted some real food, so I first directed us an even goofier way to a standalone McDonald's that had a tour bus in the parking lot. Yikes. Dad had thought we were headed to a McDonald's / Gas station combo, so he voted that we move along, because we still had over 500 miles to go. I couldn't fault the logic, so we didn't even stop the car and meandered our way to a Shell/Subway/Dunkin' Donuts/Travelers' Oasis (?).

Needless to say, a lot of people stop for gas and food at this point, so we saw a number of competitors at the few gas stations along the 300 yards. I thought some Subway would be easy on the stomach, so I quickly grabbed a sandwich as Dad filled the car.

Taylor, on the other hand, chose to go big. He went to Dunkin' Donuts and loaded up a BIG N' TOASTED®. Straight from their website:


GO BIG FROM THE START

Two eggs, Cherrywood Smoked bacon, and American cheese layered between two slices of Texas toast— our Big N' Toasted® doesn’t go light on breakfast. (Neither should you.)


Well, he ordered one. Allegedly. 

I was sitting in the driver's seat and had fully eaten my Subway, thinking, "What is going on in there?!" I'm not a fast eater.

Dad went in to check on him. When they asked where the sandwich was (there was no line), the workers replied, "What sandwich?"

"This one I ordered right here on the receipt?!"

"Ooooooooohh. Oh yeah. Okay we'll make that."

?!!!?!?!??!

I sat in the car and watched One Lappers come in, fill up, and leave. And another one. And another one.

Once Sir Dunkin' figured out that there was a sandwich to be made, Taylor was out of there in 2 minutes. Eesh. It would have been faster to get in line behind the tour bus at McDonald's.

Oh well, we packed up and hit the road again.

I was behind the wheel for an hour and a half when we were passed by some of the front runners- Chris and his wife in the Corvette and Chris and his wife in the Corvette and the Ariel Atom. I picked up our pace and jumped in with 'em.

Pickin' 'em up and puttin' 'em down.

Pickin' 'em up and puttin' 'em down.

At first it was invigorating. They were definitely covering ground. Like a lot of ground in a small amount of time. A lot a lot of ground. Like, I'm definitely not going to put any numbers on the internet amount of ground. We were getting moderately concerned that Tom the trailer was going to explode behind us, but it was hard to deny the progress we were making. Until we hit a reduced-speed double-fine construction zone. And they didn't slow down.

I tapped out. 

Back on cruise control and I could breathe a little and remove the death grip from the steering wheel. Tom bounced happily in the rear view mirror.

We saw a few other competitors come and go on the Pennsylvania / Ohio turnpike as we made our way west. The weather was calm and we were treated to a nice sunset as we stopped for gas at another oasis.

At this point, the Volvo had started throwing some brake pedal sensor fault, which killed the cruise control until you stopped and restarted the car. Taylor did some research to determine that it wasn't anything critical, so we could continue on. Just add it to the list. Oh, and we were getting intermittent low coolant warnings. But the coolant wasn't low. But we topped it off anyway.

On the plus side, this particular oasis had a Starbucks! Real (enough) coffee! We were stoked and indulged accordingly.

Back on the road, we had just 270 miles to go. One more stop and about 4 hours. It was 9pm, so we were looking good! Dad hopped back in the driver's seat and drove us into the night.

It was smooth going to the next gas stop about 30 miles from the hotel. The timing was good; we wouldn't have to stop for fuel in the morning before heading to the track. I took over the driving to take us to the finish.

Ta da!

Ta da!

We made it just before 1230am! No sweat! In fact, when we got there, 40 rooms had yet to check in for the night. Short stops (well, except for Taylor's Breakfast Overload) and a clean exit from the track had left us in an awfully good spot.

On the minus side, this was definitely the flea-baggiest hotel we'd seen. By a lot. It was foul- it looked like The Shining, felt like The Shining, and smelled like 2-week old road kill soaked in a bath of Grandmother's perfume.

Come play with us...

Come play with us...

Other than that, it was a nice place.

After briefly visiting with some friends, we got ready for bed. One last kick in the, er, eye, before bed- through our window, we spotted a shiny new Hampton Inn right across the street, laughing at us. Grrrrr.

A successful day complete, we drifted to sleep enjoying the aforementioned sweet smells, and the dulcet tones of the room's A/C fan grinding itself to a fine dust.

Damen Hattori

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