Archive 2008 - 2019

One Lap of America: Part 4 of 6

by Roy Maranhao

 Day 6 - Tuesday May 8: High Plains Raceway – distance traveled: 375 miles

We started out early with a clear, deep blue Colorado sky. Elevation in that part of the country is over 4,000 feet. Today was dry with bright sunshine and clean air. As we approached the track, the terrain got a little hilly. We got to this track early enough for me to walk the track and get an idea of where shifting and braking points should be.

This was a new track so not many of us had any experience there. The track was two and a half miles long with lots of hills, a half mile straight section and 15 turns. Many of the most difficult turns were located in the steep areas of the track. I took note of the riskiest sections and decided to take it easy in those sections at least for the first hot lap. There was one downhill S turn where several cars later went off the track. One new Camaro lost his bumper in the scrub brush. He was visibly upset when he returned to the paddock, but ended up taking it all in stride. His car was still drivable so he got a can of spray paint and painted shark’s teeth on the exposed radiator support. It made everyone smile.


 Bumperless but still smiling

While hanging out waiting for my turn, Don noticed the guys in the Mustang from my run group, Eric and Mike, were having brake problems. Their car was on jack stands and the right front wheel was off. Being an ex Ford mechanic, Don went over to see if he could help. Their brake caliper was ruined and they had no spare parts. Eric and Mike were brothers and lived in Nebraska. This was their first One Lap and they seemed desperate.  Don found an old friend John who had driven up from Taos, New Mexico, to watch us race and explained the Mustang’s problem. John had been in a few One Laps in previous years and was glad to help. He drove Eric and Mike to Denver and back to get a new caliper. This was a round trip of over 100 miles and John had never met these guys before. This sort of camaraderie happens all the time on One Lap, where nearly everyone will go out of their way to help fellow competitors.

Meanwhile, I was getting ready for the morning run. I checked the engine oil level, the tire pressure and wheel lug nut torque. I then put on my fire suit, gloves and boots. After one lap on the track, the brakes started pulsating at every turn. I had to slow down much sooner than I would have with good brakes and my time was even slower than normal. Back in the paddock, the conclusion was that some power steering fluid got on the brake pads.  With the heat generated from extreme braking while on the track the pads and rotors got really sticky. Since John was gone to the parts store, we called him and asked him to pick up brake cleaner and sand paper. In hindsight, we probably should have gotten new brake pads. When John returned we were able to clean up the brakes on my car and Eric and Mike got their car fixed in time for the afternoon run.

Here I am,l fixing the brakes.

According to Don the brakes on his run were “at about 90%”. We packed up our stuff and headed north east for fifty-three miles on two lane roads then on I76 then east on I80 headed for Nebraska.

This transit was just 330 miles so we got to Grand Island, Nebraska with plenty of time for a nice steak dinner at Bosselman’s truck stop. This place is much more than a truck stop. It has two restaurants, nearby motels, a gift shop and anything you can think of for a car or truck including a chrome shop. The place is well maintained and very clean. We checked into the Motel 6 nearby and concluded another successful day of adventure.


Day 7 - Wednesday May 9: Motorsports Park Hastings - distance traveled: 606 miles

The next morning we were able to sleep late since the track was only twelve miles south. It felt great getting a full night’s sleep. This track is 2.15 miles long with 14 turns, no hills and plenty of flat ground so that damage is unlikely if you go off the track – or so we thought. We later learned that what looked like grass was really alfalfa. Early in the morning session, a Corvette went off the track and the alfalfa went through the grill and clogged his radiator. Less than a lap later his car overheated with serious damage done to his motor. I drove the morning event without incident.

Two events were held in the afternoon. The regular track session was started with the fast cars in the early run groups. Meanwhile, the slower cars were to attend an autocross event. Autocross is a slow speed event where a course is laid out with traffic cones in a small area – usually a parking lot. Cars run the course one at a time. Each car runs the course three times with the shortest time recorded and points awarded according to speed. Autocross usually favors small lightweight nimble cars but the Nissan GT-R, a heavyweight at nearly 4,000 pounds, took first, second and third place. It’s all wheel drive with power computer regulated individually to each wheel allowing it to practically claw its way around the course. The plan was to have both events running at the same time with the faster cars starting with the road course and then the autocross and slower cars doing the autocross first followed by the road course.


 Nissan GTR – the overall winner

Things did not go well with the autocross. After the first 15 or 20 cars ran, a Mustang hit a guard rail at slow speed and ripped the driver’s door completely off its hinges. Although the car was later determined to be a total loss, the driver was unhurt. It was determined that the layout of the course was unsafe and had to be changed. This meant that all the cars that had previously run had to go again with the new layout. This caused a backup and much confusion. The parking lot actually gridlocked for a while with cars coming off the autocross not being able to get to the road course. Finally things were sorted out and everyone got to complete both events but not without much grumbling about how disorganized things were. Several years ago One Lap ran an autocross that was so confusing that nearly half the cars messed up and got no points. This caused a near mutiny. Since then, it was decided that any future autocross would be organized by car clubs that do that regularly. The SCCA (Sports Car Club of America) organized our event this time and laid out an unsafe course so even the “experts” make mistakes.

Years ago, Don was an autocross champion so he was driving this event and I had high hopes that he would do well. While he was waiting his turn, the car overheated and started leaking coolant. He shut the motor off and waited for the car to cool down. Finally, the car cooled off enough for him to do his three runs and it didn’t overheat again. He then ran the road course without overheating. We thought that maybe the radiator cap was loose which caused the problem and it was now fixed. We had another long drive ahead of us but left hoping for the best.

We drove east on I80 toward Omaha then north on I29 toward Sioux Falls, Iowa, near the southeast corner of South Dakota. At this point we had traveled 250 miles on interstate highways but the next 350 miles was all over slower state roads through Minnesota with lots of deer spotted (both alive and on the side of the road) and more state police than we had seen anywhere else. One of them actually introduced himself to us. We were doing ten over the speed limit and he thought that was a bit excessive. He was really curious about One Lap. After a very cordial conversation and a check on our papers, he let us go with barely a warning and wished us good luck. Previous to that encounter, we were passed by several competitors and we figured his quota may have been filled by the time he got to us.

Central Minnesota is a lonely place. If you’ve ever seen the movie Fargo, that pretty much sums it up except without all the snow. I was surprised by the large number of wind farms we passed. These were the giant Siemens 3.6 megawatt units with each blade measuring 52 meters in length. There were several farms with 40 or 50 of these units slowly churning out power destined for elsewhere with a red light on top of each windmill all blinking together. It reminded me of the little oil wells you would see when driving at night across the Oklahoma panhandle except there, each light is blinking independently. Even though both are in my opinion a minor example of visual pollution, I prefer the random blinking.

We stopped at the Best Western in St. Cloud, Minnesota - about 80 miles from the track in Brainerd. The car ran flawlessly all night long so we had long since forgotten our overheating problem earlier in the day.