Greg's and Rick's Excellent One Lap of America Adventure, 1997
Editorial note: this was written soon after completing the 1997 One Lap of America, as a series of emails to an audience of National Motorists Association members, state chapter coordinators, and activists. Recall that this is very shortly after the repeal of the 55 mph National Mandatory Highway Speed Limit, so not only was I relating my experiences of the event but also my impressions of how the country "was dealing with" the prospect of "thousands of deaths" that many opponents predicted (incorrectly, history records). Regardless, enjoy the write-up, it was fun do pass along! - Greg
Well, having just returned from running the 1997 One Lap of America (and finally recovering) I can speak to the attitudes towards speed limits in at least 15 states.
Most are pretty cool.
The One Lap was designed to (ostensibly) run at legal speeds; our route book had specific routes and times. Even though this was not a true Time-Speed-Distance (TSD) rally between race venues, we did have a specified Out time and "no later than" In time. Funny thing, although the route was designed for average speeds that were within the prevailing limits (ranging from 58 mph to as low as 35 mph) there were no provisions in that "average" speed for essentials.
You know, things such as food. Potty breaks. Fuel stops. Sleep.
Further, the majority of the drives were scheduled at night. This gave us not only the necessary daylight track time at each venue, but it also gave us lighter traffic and less constabulary to deal with at night. Kudos to the routemasters.
The organizers of the event had informed all states of the event and the times that we would be going through there. The reasoning for that is that "cops hate surprises"; I suppose I agree with that. Strangely enough the states of Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, and Illinois had each requested more detailed information... To make matters worse, each one of our cars was clearly splashed with the required contingent of numbers, event logos, and sponsor decals. High-performance street cars cleverly disguised as race cars.
Rick and I started our adventure quite a bit behind in time. Rick's car, a beautiful platinum 1995.5 Audi S4, was scheduled for some performance upgrades that arrived horribly late. Not only were his performance wheels and tires still missing the day before we were scheduled to leave, but his performance suspension was still being installed the very hour that we had planned to head out from Connecticut to the start dinner at Watkins Glen. We had a goal of getting to the Glen hotel to be ready to do the event the next day, and we finally got out of the dealership mid-afternoon. Once on the road it was apparent that Rick was determined to make up that 3-hour shortfall within the normally-6-hour drive to upstate New York...I made sure I was buckled up, closed my eyes, and figured this was gonna be a really long week.
We arrived at the "Lodge on the Green", safely, with plenty of time and daylight left. The first thing we did was look around at the machinery present. We were both stunned at the level of weaponry that was brought to bear for this event; if it was a new high-end piece of machinery, then it was parked on that green. The Audi S4 was no slouch, but we knew right then and there this event was going to be an uphill battle.
Bright and early the next morning we started our run in upstate New York, at the Watkins Glen race track. The organizers' intent was to run the first events hot laps in front of an audience in between race session at a Pro event there, but due to rain (and probably fear on the part of the track organizers of cars wrecking and killing their schedule) the event was rained out. Instead, all the entire One Lap contingent did a parade lap around the circuit and then beared out directly out to the highway towards the next goal, Michigan International Speedway (MIS). The primary route westbound out of New York was Route 17; unfortunately, even though there's rumors of making it part of the Interstate system (I-89?) the speed limit is still 55 mph. Sad, because this is a nice stretch of highway. Seems New York is still not trusting its unwashed masses.
That didn't slow us down.
We followed Rt 17 all the way to I-90 across Pennsylvania (man, is that a long state, or what?) to Ohio -- which, according to Brock Yates, is the only state still supporting the death penalty for speeding. As we moved westward the speed limits started to open up; 60, then 65 as we got to the Interstate highways. For the most part there were no problems and since we drove through at night (we had to be at MIS at 5:45am) the traffic was light and so was the trooper population. Armed with radar detectors and CB radios (bless you, FCC!) we were able to negotiate the drive with enough time to spare for a 3-hour nap in a local motel (the last accomodations, it turned out, for quite a while).
The MIS event went well (check in, unpack teh car, run the event, repack the car) and we were off for St. Louis' Gateway Intl that afternoon. Southward down I-69 to Indy, then westward on I-70 (an interstate that became like a second home...) The Sunday afternoon traffic was light, and the speed limits were typical (65, maybe 70?). St Louis' event (check in, unpack, run, repack) came and went without a hitch and were now off for our longest leg so far: to Denver, Colorado.
I-70 again. We left St. Louis in the late afternoon and we had to be at Denver's Second Creek race track by first thing the next morning, roughly 15 hours and 850 miles away. As we went across Missouri the landscape started to get bleaker, but fortunately as the afternoon progressed the daylight waned acordingly. By the time we hit the middle of Missouri the sky was pitch-black.
"How dark was it?" Well, shortly after pitch-dark we were out in the middle of nowhere and had to...well, relieve ourselves. We grabbed a one exit somewhere, and pulled the car over to the side of the exit ramp to accomplish that. As we were both standing there takin' care of bidness the car's headlights timed out and shut off...and it was as black as...well, how much more black could it be? The answer is "none. None more black."
Let's just say that we could no longer see our tools of the trade; and as our eyes adjusted...the sky was an amazing brilliance of stars. This was the sky that I had no seen since I moved away from Texas in '92, and possibly that Rick had never seen before. 'Merica.
We used Braille to close things up and find the car. Then when Rick opened the driver's door the interior lights blinced us...
Off we were, back not he road. The roads began to straighten out, and the traffic got lighter.
We got braver.
Missouri was kind to us and as we hit the plains of Kansas we were switching drivers and dropping the loud pedal. The highways in Kansas are long, straight, flat, and traffic-free at 2:00am. A fellow One Lapper in a Mercedes and I were hauling tail down the pike there, listening intently to the CB radio reports and watching the LEDs on the RADAR detector like hawks. Although I had just returned from Germany on a week-long vacation (where I drove comfortably at 125 MPH) I really felt reckless at 100 mph in Kansas. It wasn't because of the speed; we were both in very capable cars, and both very capable drivers. No, I felt reckless because I was not concentrating on operating my vehicle at 100 mph, I was dividing my attention between driving, playing with the CB, and watching the RADAR detector to avoid a ticket.
And, as it turns out, that attention was warranted: Kansas was ready for us. I was getting reports of troopers ahead, but those blessed truckers spotted almost every one of them. Almost. The Mercedes and I were running about a 1/4-mile apart near Salina when as we crested a slight rise we both got a miniscule Ka-band bleep on the detector. Uh-oh. We both creamed the brake pedal at the same time and I felt the ABS start to kick in. I looked over in the eastbound lanes and saw a car with brake lights on, then it went across the median. Busted.
Well, needless to say, one of Kansas' finest pulled us both over. We had slowed to the required 70 mph, and he placed his cruiser between the two of us blocking both lanes, turned on the strobes, and signaled. After I (trailing the Benz) signaled that I was going to pull over, he stopped us on the shoulder. We all pulled off well to the side and awaited our fate.
The trooper was cordial, and requested our "license and registration please"; I asked to get out to retrieve mine from the trunk. He said he was going to write me up for 84-in-a-70 (thank you, Mr. Sine Error!) As I was retrieving my license I noticed he had a big grin on his face. When I asked him about it and he told me that the two of us were the 6th and 7th One Lappers that he had gotten within the last couple of hours. I started to loosen up and chat with him, and he said they were always bored out of their minds out there just running license plates looking for stolen cars in the middle of the night. They were grateful for us, and hoped we were passing through on the return!
He was a real nice guy, not the typical snotty law enforcement personalities that I've met in CT. He didn't act like a drill sergeant and he didn't treat me like I was a child-molester. In fact, he seemed interested in what we were doing (and he asked if the SUV that was adorned like a Police Truck were really cops; they were). I actually congratulated him on his "kills" that night; I admitted we were breaking the law, regardless of my disagreements with it. He had some good snags with his talented use of instant-on radar and deserved the praise.
As we departed, I asked him how much this ticket was going to cost. The damage? Try $43 ticket + $18 "court cost" = $63!!! Way too cool. This ticket in CT would have cost somewhere north of $250 and I would have been treated very poorly. (I paid for the ticket via mail. I usually fight tickets, but this one wasn't worth the hassle. I doubt it even shows up on my CT driver's license). In the end, this same trooper and his buddies ended up bagging 14 One Lap cars, and made the roads Safe for Society. I really hope they got a steak dinner from their boss that night (honest!)
So anyway, armed with a new respect for Kansas radar equipment and operators, and an adrenaline rush that would last me for the next hour, we continued on to Denver. The adrenaline quickly wore off and I turned the reigns over to my co-driver (who nearly slept through the whole Kansas trooper ordeal); as I woke up a few hours later we were approaching Denver. To my delight I saw the Interstate speed limit was 75 mph. I couldn't wait to take a picture of THAT! We stopped outside Denver at a little roadside cafe and had an awesome breakfast, best in a long time. I love those off-the-beaten-path places.
Our two events in Denver, at Second Creek Raceway (Second Creek Event 1 and Second Creek Event 2) and Mountain View, went without any problems, and now it was time to do the drive I had been looking forward to: Las Vegas via I-70 west towards Utah.
The drive westward through Colorado. Rocky Mountains. Slow twisty roads. Well, twisty at least.
Once we had negotiated Denver's rush hour that Monday evening, we were on beautiful I-70 (again) westbound towards these really big hills out in the ditance. I knew it was going to be a fun drive from the start and I wasn't disappointed. If you haven't seen the Rocky Mountains from I-70, there's just no point in my trying to describe it. Words truly fail to adequately describe the view. But the driving is a blast. Do it.
Colorado pretty much leaves Interstates at 75 mph, even through a lot of areas within the city of Denver. Once we left the corporate boundaries we were actually able to go that fast. Ir was something, driving through the passes and watching my handheld aviation GPS (new toy) tell me we were approaching 12,000 feet. I was driving a turbocharged car so the power wasn't a problem at all (pilots will understand when I say that the critical altitude of this car appears to be well above this level); however I could tell that the trucks and normally-aspirated cars were having a hard time, especially around the top. Not us.
And you know something, even though the speed limit was 75 mph, I dind't see a lot of people going "10 over that" as we were warned would happen when the speed limit changed. Maybe I wasn't looking hard enough?
Anyway, as we crossed over the top of the big hills it started to get dark outside and soon we were in some type of canyon or valley on the Interstate, negotiating a lot of twisty roads going down. I could tell it was still breathtaking, but the part that got my attention the most was that the speed limit stayed at 75mph. I'll tell you, there were some areas where I was not comfy at 75mph, but guess what? Contrary to IIHS, Jill, and Ralph, people actually slowed down to a safe speed to negotiate these corners. Imagine that! I suspect the specter of a long fall with lots of screaming has significantly more impact (pun intended) on drivers than a number on a reflective metal sign. But that could just be me.
Another eye-opening experience is what I found when I did come across a lower speed limit. I'm from the East, so I tend to ignore speed limit signs; they're for money, not safety. Uh, Wrong Answer out here, Bucky. When Colorado puts up a 50mph speed limit sign on I-70, it really means something. After the first couple of corners of ignoring those speed changes, I acquired a healthy respect anytime I saw a reduced speed limit sign. And as soon as the danger was past, the speeds were immediately posted back to 75 mph. I applaud Colorado for their speed limits. Of course, I'm greedy: I'd like to see Montana-posting on some stretches out there...
Soon, though, we found our way out of the Rockies and on the flat plains, closing in on Utah. About the time we got to the plains I passed the reigns of our trusty stead over to my co-driver and got some shut-eye. He reported flat, straight roads posted at 75mph all the way out to I-15, at which point we headed south for Lost Wages. I-15 was more of the same, except for a nice gorgeous stretch above St. George. 75 mph highways, wide-open, light enforcement. Good friendly drivers that moved over for you and waved as you went by. Driver heaven.
Of course, then it started to get real hot outside.
We arrived in Las Vegas at about 4:00am Tuesday; just about dawn. Las Vegas Motor Speedway is on the north side of town, so we went straight there, crashed for a couple hours in the car, then ran our events (Las Vegas #1 and Las Vegas #2). The organizers planned a mandatory overnight stop in Las Vegas to give us some rest (excellent diea) so we went to the Strip, lost some money, and generally enjoyed ourselves for a couple of hours before we crashed hard in the hotel.
Wednesday dawned early for us. The killer drive was upon us: 1300 miles, 22 hours, all the way to Hallett Motor Speedway in Oklahoma.
Rumor was that the Texas Department of Public Safety had warned the One Lap organizers that any car seen in their state would be pulled over and detained, so Brock and company came up with an inventive scheme to keep us out of Texas. He put in a mandatory control point at Teec Nos Pos New Mexico traindg post, up in the extreme northeast corner of the state right by Four Corners. From there he routed us through Farmington, northern reservation, Carson National Forest so the quickest way to Hallett would be along back roads through the panhandle of Oklahoma and north of the Texas panhandle; we would completely avoid Texas. Being a displaced Texan I'd have preferred a foray through there, but oh, well.
The route took us north on I-15 to St. George, then eastward across the top of Arizona and New Mexico. Absolutely gorgeous drive. We got to see the best of the Desert Southwest on this route, and if anyone else is interested in it, I'll forward to you the roads we took. We saw mesas, Indian reservation land, the Vermilion Cliffs, Lake Powell and the Glen Canyon Dam (unfortunately, not enough time for The Big One; it was only about 2 hours away), and Monument Valley. A fabulous drive, I need to do that again when I have time to spare. Speed limits were typically set at 55 or 60 mph, but the roads were open and light traffic; 70-75 was not unsafe. Since enforcement was light was well, we opened up a bit and made some time.
Once we picked up our control decals at Teec Nos Pos - with a quick side trip to get our butts photographed in four states at Four Corners - we stepped off into New Mexico. As we headed farther in, the desert scrub began to be replaced by evergreens and more greener brush. Soon we found ourselves deep in the San Juan Mountains, in the middle of another stupendous mountain drive. Here we had to negotiate mountain roads and switchbacks, and the speeds were set accordingly. Another obstacle included deer and other small animals that didn't seem to care too much - or notice - who was on their road. Fortunately, we made our way through with no incidents.
After a really good Mexican dinner in Taos and another super drive through the De Cristo Range, I gave the car back to Rick for the drive I knew was coming: Oklahoma. Ever been through northern Oklahoma? Well, how about Kansas (same thing)? I ain't no dummy; I planned to sleep through it.
So where were we? Oh, yes! Our intrepid pair were on their way through the wilds of the panhandle of Oklahoma...As you may well remember, I drove most of the day, enjoying the sights of the Southwest. As we got into Oklahoma the roads became straight as an arrow. Take a peek at a map sometime at highways 56, 64, 3, 270, and 412 (et al) heading towards Tulsa through the Panhandle. First off, there's not too many curves in there. Secondly, this highway has FAR TOO MANY DESIGNATIONS!!! Yes, our route book was filled with items such as "follow 64/3/412/xx/xx/xx, leaving xx, adding xxx". What a mess.
There was one distinct advantage to these two-lane back roads. We could really fly on them. Despite the fact that they were marked at 55 mph, they were straight and long and we could see virtually forever on them. For the most part the only traffic we came across were other One Lappers. These roads went in and between farmlands, and it was entertaining to see on the farm houses an occasional picnic table moved up to near the road with families watching and waving as the cars drove by at speed. I sincerely hope they don't do this every night...anyway, by this time it was getting dark (very dark) so it didn't matter too much.
As we motored on, we passed by several teams along the way, and got passed by another driver that preferred to go just a tad faster than us. So, I let him string out and followed him, sometimes at speeds approaching 90 mph. This speed did not feel unsafe. The roads were in good shape and there was zero traffic. We did slow down to pass through a spectacular thunderstorm (Nature's fireworks, just for us!) and the small towns, but then we were back up to speed and on our way.
Throughout this whole drive through OK, I don't remember any speed enforcement problems. This is apparently a main thoroughfare as there were many trucks on it, and the police were identified regularly. One thing I did notice though, that on this road the regular chit-chat of the CB was pretty light. Either I had the squelch way too high or everyone was very tired...
One thing I didn't mention before is that pretty much from the beginning of the trip we'd been having a wheel problem; one of Rick's new trick 3-piece wheels was leaking air at the wheel halves seam. We'd check it and add air every fuel stop; the leak was slow enough to not bother us too much, as long as we checked it. My biggest concern was what would happen if we got a flat in the middle of God's country out here...we stopped for fuel in Guymon, and were quite surprised to find anyone open at some ungodly hour of the night. That was lucky for us though, otherwise we were on the edge of having to stay put until someone opened up. Believe me, when I say that there is nothing but farmland between these little towns, I am not kidding (they're old steam train towns, perfectly spaced for coal and water fillups). You run out of gas out there, and you're parked until the morning. Since we were using this Mitsubishi as a rabbit we were in a bit of a hurry and filled up, and were quickly on our way.
But in our haste we forgot one thing...
I was scheduled to drive at Hallet that next morning so the plan was for me to drive all that day while Rick tried to sleep, then Rick would drive all night while I slept. Unfortunately, several things kept this plan from happening: the drive was absolutely beautiful all day and it was very bright outside, so Rick had difficulty sleeping; by the time he finally got to sleep I didn't have the heart to wake him, so I kept driving. Some time in the early morning, still chasing the Mitsu, I was too beat to continue, and Rick wasn't any better. But we got near Fort Supply, it was just too much; we bit adieu to the Mitsu and I pulled over to the side of the road to catch some sleep. An hour or so later of us napping (sure felt like 10 minutes), Rick woke up and decided that he could take over for the remainder of the leg. We were still about an hour ahead of schedule to get us into Hallet at 5:45AM. I moved over to the co-pilot's seat and grabbed some more ZZZs.
Soon afterwards, I was startled awake to the car abruptly pulling over to the side of the road, a lot of cussing, and an acrid burning smell. OK, this got my attention. As I become somewhat coherent I caught Rick bailing out of the driver's seat and I saw lots of smoke. Thinking I was left to suffer in a fiery tomb, I bailed out of the starboard side into the midst of the smoke and rolled down a large gully. Looking up at the car I saw the cause of all this commotion: the right rear tire was smoking badly. Guess what? In our haste to keep up with the Mitsu we had forgotten to check the tire pressure back in Guymon, and the tire was flat. Real flat.
I climbed up the embankment and Rick had the portable electric air compressor out and was trying to pump up the tire. I got brave enough to approach the car through the smoke and I could just barely breathe through the fumes. Noticing that the tire pressure was getting nowhere, Rick commented that he thought it might have broken the bead to the tire. I went into the trunk and got out the flashlight and pointed it at the tire. Well, not only had it come off the bead, but the tire sidewasll was shredded; we must have been driving on a flat tire for QUITE a while. Funny thing, Rick was STILL trying to pump up that damned tire...
Note to all you kids out there: Regular sleep is a good thing before operating heavy machinery.
Well, we screwed up. We got in a hurry at Guymon and didn't check the tire pressure, and then fatigue took over, we drove it flat, and ruined a $250 tire. And we were officially out in the Middle of Nowhere. It was obvious I even had driven it while it was low.
Remember what I said about being in God's country out there? Man, was it dark ("none darker")! We started to unload a completely packed trunk in order to get to the tools and spare tire (I'm still amazed at the amount of stuff we could pack into the trunk of an Audi S6 -- we got several "applause awards" from competitors when they looked at our pile at each track). Of course, out in the middle of nowhere, we were not so concerned about awards as we were about getting that replacement wheel on. At least we were thoughtful enough to pack a full-size wheel and tire instead of the temporary one. The next problem that we had was being able to remove the wheel. It was burning hot, and still kicking out smoke, so had to be careful (and I've never been a real fan of the smell of burning tires). It went unspoken the gravity of the situation; we knew that we were very close to catching that tire on fire. This would have Not Been Good.
Well, 30 minutes later we were back on the road, heading for Hallet in slience, lesson learned. We worked our way to the Cimarron Turnpike, and Hallet was less than 30 minutes away. The track event at Hallet was mine as I had driven that track countless times before as an SCCA competitor (I used to live in Texas, and I had a track record there), but now we had to do it on the stock Audi wheel and tire. This didn't seem to create any particular handling quirks, and the event would have gone well except for the fact that I (apparently) accidentally hit the ignition switch and killed the car during my run...sigh...
After Hallet we were on our way to Memphis Motorsports Park to try our hand at drag racing. Speed limits on Oklahoma's turnpikes were 65 mph, I think, and we grabbed the Muskogee Turnpike down to I-40 across Arkansas to Memphis. I can't talk much about this drive, as I was zonked by the time we got through Tulsa. However, I don't remember smelling anything funny, so I assume the drive went well.
The drag event at Memphis was fun, and Rick did well in the bracket eliminations that afternoon. We managed to borrow a tire from a competitor (same size, same brand, what a break!) and we had it mounted on the shredded tire's wheel on the way out of town. However, their tire-balance machine was not working properly so we just took it as-is to use as a spare on the road.
I took over the driving duties, navigating I-55 to I-57 to I-70 (again) enroute to Putnam Park, Indiana, just west of Indy. I remember the highways were in nice shape, and I don't recall any particular enforcement problem. Keep in mind that by this time on the trip I wasn't paying too much attention to details; we're pretty lucky that I remember even where I was... Putnam was our goal for 5:45 the next morning, and it was obvious the folks running this event expected us to be tired; they had scheduled in enough time for us to grab a hotel for a few hours. Boy did it feel good to grab 4 hours' sleep and a shower! We were refreshed and ready to take on Putnam Park Road Course...
...in the driving rain. Cats and dogs. We stopped to fill up the Audi with gas before the event, and to pump up the tire pressure for the track (we usually added 10 extra psi all around at each event). Rick noted that our factory-Audi-wheel-and-tire on the right rear corner seemed a bit low, but we never really checked it when we put it on. We pumped it up just like all the rest, paid the fuel bill, and went searching for the track.
It looked like a nice track, at least through the passes of the windshield wiper. We were really psyched up for this event, because this car had Audi's Quattro All Wheel Drive system and ABS, and combination that had proven itself to us in other events (I was simply amazed at what this car could do. Best handling car I'd driven to date). This was showing to be true, as I was cutting through the track during the first lap of our run there. Midway through the second lap, feeling good as I passed one of the new C5 Corvettes, I turned into a left sweeper and suddenly the back end of the car stepped out turning the car 90 degrees to the direction I was planning to go. No amount of anything allowed me to regain control and I slid Rick's $45,000 car off the track into a shallow depression filled with mud.
After using the windshield wipers to wipe the mud off to see where I ended up (and doing quick inventory to verify that one, I was OK, and two, I didn't hit anything solid with Rick's car) I tried to move the car. Nope, we're there, stuck. I had to wait for the rest of the cars in the group to finish and then the wrecker came towards me. Not knowing this car well, I was hesitant to hook his tow cable onto anything; on top of that the rear end of the car was facing towards the track and there was no way I could get a cable under the bumper, which was even with Mother Earth at this point (the nose was pointing up the side of the ditch). The guy told me to sit tight and he'd go get his tractor to come across the depression and pull me forwards. While I waited for him, I got out of the car and looked around. Only then did I realize I had done my pirouette right across from the pits and the front straight, in front of God and Everybody. It was still raining cats and dogs, so I reached inside and put on my raincoat and hood. Not that I wanted to hide my face or anything...
Well, about 5 hours later (actually, 5 minutes) a tractor showed up with a tow cable, and Rick showed up in the ambulance. Rick directed the exhumation of his Audi, and I got in the passenger side while he drove silently to a garden hose. We cleaned all the mud off the car. Rick had this big grin on his face, but somehow I don't think it was a very joyous occasion. Just then, he looked over and noticed that our OEM Audi wheel/tire on the right-rear was flat. Seems that sometime within the last half-day we picked up some road debris which damaged that tire, and it deflated during my run. This was confirmed during a quick run to the local tire store where we had that tire patched. Vindicated? Well, I don't know, I just wish it hadn't happened.
After a free breakfast in nearby Greencastle (where I had to endure the abuse of competitors), we were off for our run back to upstate New York. The next stop was Lancaster, NY a suburb of Buffalo. We followed I-70 (again) through Indy and on towards Ohio. The Audi tire that was patched was vibrating badly (the guy didn't balance it, saying that he put it on the "same way"...sigh). We endured it.
Ohio. What can I say? Remember Brock's comment, that "Ohio is the only state left that mandates the death penalty for speeding"? Well, the enforcement was out in droves in Ohio. Speed limits dropped, and between Indiana and Columbus we saw numerous troopers and one report of a "bear in the air". Rounding the corner northward on I-71 and things didn't change. We had troopers all the way up to Cleveland with another CB report of flying enforcement. Speeds were kept in check. Ohio wins.
We had lots of time to get to Lancaster (another easy drive) so after a hearty sit-down steak dinner in Cleveland we jumped on I-90 and followed it across PA and into Buffalo. Since our teeth were becoming loose from the unbalanced factory wheel and tire, we put the aftermarket one back on (with the borrowed tire) and promised ourselves that we would check the tire pressure religiously (turns out the unbalanced aftermarket wheel/tire combo felt better than the "balanced" OEM one...) We enjoyed the luxury of 6 hours sleep in a real hotel and on Saturday morning (the last day!) we joined our fellow competitors at the Lancaster Speedway for another round of drag races and a run on the adjacent 1/2-mile oval. Unfortunately, the rain dogged us again and forced cancellation of the drag races, but we were able to watch Rick do an impressive run on the oval before heading off for Wyoming New York, home of Brock Yates and the Cannonball Run Pub.
At Wyoming, the whole town (it seemed) turned out to meet us. They shut down the center of town in front of the Pub and treated us to a free lunch and a lot of happy faces (and we were even asked to sign autographs!) I strongly encourage anyone finding themselves in the area to drop by. The Cannonball Pub is covered in mementos from Brock Yates' interesting career and passion with automobiles and it's obvious the town is proud of him. Plus, you may be able to even find Brock himself there once in a while. It was here in Wyoming that I gathered up enough courage to introduce myself to him. He was polite enough, but it was obvious that I was not the first to do so. However, when I told him I was associated with the National Motorists Association as an Activist, his eyes lit up and I had his attention! He even offered to sign my copy of his autobiography of Enzo Ferrari (I mailed it to him, and got it back within a week!) After spending a wonderful 2 hours there, we were off (in 30 seconds intervals) to an untimed drive through the Letchworth State Park ("Grand Canyon of the East"!); a completely delightful drive. I would have never thought that there was a canyon as pretty as that one in upstate New York! Another must-visit place. We had our photographs taken there in front of the car (why couldn't they have done this on the FIRST day when we looked HUMAN?) and then we were released to continue on to Watkins Glen and our last event.
We returned to the Glen to more gloomy skies (at least it wasn't raining like at Lancaster) but as we were unpacking the Audi I noticed a distinct change in the atmosphere among the competitors: instead of quiet, fatigue-induced thought, everyone was smiling and talking, music was playing, and everyone looked chipper. Was it because we had sleep the night before or that we just had a good meal a few hours ago? Maybe because it was the last event? Maybe because we were going to drive The Glen? Dunno, but it was obvious...
Well, Rick drove the last event, and ran a very respectable time. We were finally finished with the Car and Drive One Lap of America, 1997.
As we drove the 20 minutes back to the "Lodge on the Green" to enjoy our competitors' company at the barbecue that night, we suddenly realized that this was the first time in a week that we were driving and we didn't have to hurry or meet a time goal. It felt kind of good. In fact, once Rick voiced that himself he noticeably slowed down and relaxed a bit. We checked into the hotel, changed and went to the Lodge. After a couple of pitchers of the best beer I've ever had and a lot of barbecue, we were enjoying the first full night's sleep in a week. The next morning we met our new friends for the last time at the Awards Banquet, and after bidding so long to everyone (and swapping phone numbers, addresses, and email addresses) Rick and I were back to Connecticut.
...at somewhere close to legal speeds.
Dancing Bears Racing, 1997 Entry. We hung on these guys like flies on stink so we wouldn't get lost. Unless, of course, they got lost, too (they didn't).
Bond/Wigert Racing - the guys in the Pinto...
Considering running the One Lap? Take to heed Greg's Words of Wisdom...
For those that have driven in the One Lap of America, what advice would you give to someone that is planning on driving this? I am giving this some serious thought [to doing the event]...
- First, do the event with a very close friend that you trust enough to drive at high speeds on the public highways, so that you can lie down in the back and get some sleep. Otherwise you won't be able to sleep wondering if he's going to kill you.
- Agree to a pact: driver behind the wheel drives at his own comfortable pace, and he also pays the speeding ticket(s). No peer pressure to go faster than comfortable, but the driver must slow down if the passenger is uncomfy with the speeds. Otherwise, you'll hate each other for the whole week.
- Prepare your car to finish, not to win. You won't win. The official rule for car prep is: "there are no rules." If you enter the $40K-and-up Luxury Sedan class, be prepared to race against some guy in a $125K Mercedes or BMW who just spent 3 weeks attending a driving school at each track in his Euro-spec BMW 5-series RennWagen with a DTM Touring Car engine installed in the bay with DTM suspension and all-wheel-drive and Hans Stuck co-driving. Besides, winning gets you a trophy and a mention in Car and Driver. Do this event for yourself, for the experience, for the fun, and you'll be a winner regardless of the results.
- When you do see that DTM car, go check it out. There will be some incredible street machinery at this event. Your jaw will drop to the floor.
- Don't plan on getting a hotel. Prepare to live in your car 24 hours a day for a week, using truck stops for showers. Any hotel sleep time is a God-given gift and you don't know when God is going to feel generous.
- Since you're living in your car for a week, time to put aside those anal-retentive ticks like "no eating in my car" and "no used tissues on the floor". Give your co-driver a lot of social leeway...
- ...but at the same time do your best to take care of your own personal hygiene and social mis-graces. Your wife has gotten used to your bad habits and accepted them; your (current) friend has not.
- You can't switch any tires throughout the entire event unless you destroy one. You will be driving across the country, sometimes in rain. Don't buy shaved racing radials or you'll end up against the guardrail in the rain like the new C5 Corvette did in 1997, only a handful of miles from the start.
- Have an extra mounted full-size spare just in case.
- Bring a box of disposable earplugs. Not 3 or 4 sets, a box full. You'll need them to sleep, both in the car (driver's listening to music) and at the tracks (noise).
- If your car doesn't have an MP3 player, install one, and each load your favorites lest you be left to listen to Junior CountryBoy halfway to the Left Coast (unless, of course, you both like Junior CountryBoy...)
- Leave the CDs at home. This was a good idea 10 years ago, but now they just take up space.
- Another important rule: driver picks the music, passenger sleeps.
- Go to Sears and get one of those basic mechanics' tool kits that come in the small carry pouches. No, not that one, the smaller one. You will want "basic" hand tools. Besides, you'll get VERY tired of taking things in and out of your car at every event (the cars must be emptied before they go on the track and, of course, reloaded afterwards.)
- Don't try and pack the day of departure. You and your co-driver should spend time the previous weekend (or sooner!) to bring everything you are planning to, including your clothes bag and kit bag, stuff it in that little car and go driving for 6 hours. Make a list of everything you don't touch in those 6 hours and remove it from your car. Your living space is at a premium, and you'll appreciate not having that laptop, and GPS, and CDs you thought you'd get around to listening to, and the Walkman, and the every "whatever" you figure you'd just "toss in there."
- Bring tissues, a roll of TP, sunblock, and a small First-Aid kit.
- Now that you've pared everything down, you and your co-driver should map out exactly where everything goes inside the car. Take the afternoon to remove and replace EVERYTHING in the car (down to the floor mats) at least three times. You're going to be doing it twice a day for a week, better get used to it and on the same page.
- Bring a tarp. At each event your stuff will be on the ground. There *will* be rain.
- Make sure you both know where everything is, and that anything the driver may need is easily accessible. It's really a pain in the ass to get woken up in the middle of the day and asked "where is...?" or "can you reach over there and get for me...?"
- Once the car is ready to go, leave it alone for the week. Don't drive it to work and run the risk of damage or other new problems. Leave it packed and ready to go; it will make the week leading up to the event a lot less stressful for both of you.
- Bring a single current-year Rand-McNally road atlas and a list of your car dealerships nationwide, as well as the main 800 Customer Service number. That's all you need. Everything else takes up valuable space. Even the extra stuff in the glovebox (empty it out!).
- The event organizers give you awesome trip notes, down to the tenth of a mile. Thus, the weekend before, go find a DOT-calibrated 1-to-5-mile stretch of road and calibrate your speedometer. All road trip notes are in miles and tenths of miles, and the last thing you need is to wonder if your mileage is off and "should we have turned back there?"
- Get a cheap battery-powered (NOT solar-powered!) calculator and Velcro it someplace for the driver to be able to get to. Have another piece of Velcro so the navigator can use it while he's not sleeping. You'll need it for route calcs (think you can do it in your head? Try basic math after no sleep for three days...)
- Have some frequent flyer miles or a good high-limit credit card with you, just in case. Be mentally prepared to leave your car and fly home.
- Take every opportunity to eat a good sit-down lunch or dinner somewhere. It's well worth the 30-45 minutes a day. Treat yourself to off-the-beaten path restaurants; you can eat at a Denny's when you get home. Experience America.
- Bring a camera, a small video recorder, and a notebook. You'll want to record things you see, smell, feel, and taste. You're about to drive across this AWESOME country!
- Take some time to look around and smell the roses. We have an absolutely breathtaking country, and if you get too serious about this gig it's going to fly right by your window and you'll miss it. The best part of the One Lap is not the track events, it's the drive. The drive *is* the One Lap; everything else is a 3-hour nap break while your co-driver runs the events.