Road trip to Watkins Glen raceway near Corning NY

Car Guys open track event

July 2002

I scheduled myself for the Car Guys open track event as an instructor. The event was held at Watkins Glen International raceway near Corning, New York on July 8 & 9. For that trip, I had a lot of car modifications to finish to my 1986 Ford Mustang GT open track car before I got to the track.

Last year, with the demise of the BFG R1, I was forced to make the change to a different wheel to have a better tire selection. I decided to bite the bullet this spring and install bigger front brakes and shift to a 17" wheel. I installed the 1994 Mustang spindle onto my 1986 Mustang. This allowed me to run 13 " Mustang Cobra brakes (twin piston PBR calipers) and 5 lug 17 x 9 Cobra wheels with 255/40-17 Kumho Victoracers . Totally different from my old 11" rotors with 265/50-15 BFG on 15x8.5 wheels.

I also improved my existing brake ducting system with a backing plate to improve the effects of the air to the center of the rotor. The effort involved new master cylinder, brake lines, flex lines, redrilling the rear brakes to 5 lug pattern, spindles, calipers, tire & wheel selection, etc. It was a big change to the car.

The rest of the effort on the Mustang was routine (fluid checks, changes, visuals, etc). The tow van required 6 cans of R-134. It will get some maintenance when I return as the compressor is leaking. I carried extra 134 just in case. The A/C actually worked pretty well as the weather was in the low 80's up in Corning. The trailer needs some PM, but not all of it got done before the trip. It should be roadworthy though.

 I loaded up the van and put the Mustang onto the trailer on Thursday and headed up to Ava's house in southern Maryland. We departed her place Saturday morning and made the 350 mile haul up to Corning arriving about 7 hours later. We stay in Corning New York instead of going up to the area of Watkins Glen proper (20 minutes away) because of the shopping available in Corning. Lots of glassware stores including a Corning Glass factory outlet store. We get some shopping in Saturday and Sunday before the event on Monday & Tuesday.

Which was good as I did some shopping for a trailer tire. Just as I pulled into the hotel the tire went down. I carry a patch kit but this tire was far enough gone I chose to replace it. I jacked up the axle, yanked the assembly, and located a tire at a trailer store and had a Firestone install it onto the rim. No harm, no foul.

We arrive at the track Monday at 6:30 am, select a spot in the pits, and "pitch camp". After unloading, I check in and get my student assignments. One driver in the novice/green group (Saab 9000. His first event with some minor autox experience) and the other driver in the intermediate/yellow group (Mustang Cobra. He's been here before). The weather was about 88 degrees and sunny with patchy clouds all day. Wonderful dry track. I located both my students and chatted with them, getting a feel for how they would run. I also met up with many friends, including Rich Schwartz from the north side. He was there to run the Glen again.

As usual, the instructors got to "sweep" the track, so we were all out blasting around the track at 0830. Great way to start your day getting it down the back straight at WGI at 130 mph on a great looking morning. As instructors, we have scheduled track sessions every morning, and get to run the track when not with a student (except no running in the green group. They have enough on their minds without us out there.) Over the two days I managed to log 215 miles around the track with no problems. Now that is the way to have a track event.

The pads (Porterfield R4 carbon kevlar) and the rotors had not been bedded, so I spent several laps on that effort. Once bedded, the brake system worked like gangbusters. The brake duct system was very effective, so much so that I ended blocking off some of the air intake opening to raise the brake pad temps (to get them into their proper working range). I was overbraking on most every corner, a problem I don't mind having. I do believe I will change the master cylinder (from a 1" bore to a 15/16" unit) to gain a pedal feel that is more to my liking. As a system, all 4 corners seemed to be working real well.

The Victoracer tire has a different feel than the older BFG R1's. They feel a bit "squirmy". They stick well, no complaints there. They were getting me around the track nicely. Next year I'll up the tire size to 275/40-17 as I have the clearance to fit them

I could feel the "lack-of-camber" up front. I'll be making some changes there for the next event in August at Virginia International Raceway where I get three days on-track. That is going to be a good time.

My first student up was my 1997 Mustang Cobra driver. We chatted for awhile before we went out on track so I would have a feel for his experience level and his car's capabilities (R tires, 5 point harness, CC plates, comp pad). Good running Mustang. I use a helmet intercom system so we can chat while on-track without yelling. He had a good feel for the line and braking points. We kept the car at 8 tenths while everything came up to temp, including the driver, then started picking up speed. He was doing a nice job of getting around the track and (eventually) I felt comfortable with him and his driving style. One of the rules is NOT to scare the instructor. I had to "discuss" the importance of not dropping a wheel off the track during braking. As a result, he moved his line over a bit, making me much happier. After riding and working with him for several sessions, I gave him his solo sticker Tuesday morning.

My second student was driving a SAAB 9000 turbo front wheel drive. This being his first event, we spent more time chatting and I took him around in my car to get a view of the track. A track like WGI can be intimidating to the new driver with its length and all that blue Armco. During the two days he took the opportunity to get rides to improve his knowledge of the track. We started out by treating the on-track time like a ride in the country with no pressures, just out to tool around. We chat over the comm system as I point out turn in points, apexes, and track-out lines. We also talk about safety and controlled passing.

We then start picking up the speed as he feels more comfortable. I usually keep a running chatter discussing brake points and getting over to the apex, whatever I can do to help in establish a good grasp of the line around the track. With the SAAB being stock on street tires, and the driver very sensible, we were getting around at a respectable rate as he learned the line. About the end of the second session we were working on his braking points and getting the "arc" around the corner. His skills and understanding were improving nicely.

Then somehow the car developed a leaky valve stem, which required replacement. As a result, we missed the third session of the day as the driver went off into town to get it fixed.

Lots of different cars showed up at the event. Several converted BUSH cars were there. Very impressive and nice to look at. Wonderful sound having three of them go blasting down the front stretch.

Tuesday, Ava and I pack out of the hotel and head up to the track arriving around 0730. I preflight the car and check in with my students. Today's weather, scattered showers. Not my favorite combo, on-track auto fluids and rain water, but we'll deal with it. The day starts with a 1-hour instructor session, a good time to push the envelope a bit more and see how the car reacts as our track was dry. I was pushing the '86 pretty hard feeling out the car and how it reacted to different styles. That is when I partially blocked the brake ducts. The increase in pad temps made the brakes more predictable as I was over cooling. I'm happy with the investment in both the brakes and wheel/tire combo. I do need some more camber, so I'll be going back in to the front suspension to see if I can coax some more out of it. Most of the morning received only a smattering of sprinkles while the real rain waited for the afternoon.

I took a ride with my Mustang pilot in his first session of the day. He still seemed sane with no destructive tendencies; in fact I felt very comfortable with him. He was hitting the marks and making good safety decisions. After a bit I directed him into the pits and I got out, putting a solo sticker on the car and sent him on his way. During the day I still visited with him talking about the track conditions, especially later when the rains picked up. He did a good job. Nice car control with my being scared only the one time. The car was doing some nice power slides coming up out of the boot. Neat time.

My SAAB driver was back with everything up and running. We picked up where we left off and it was back around the track. We started getting rain in the second session, but that didn't faze the driver as he was comfortable driving in the rain. The car was working well and he was getting the line nicely. We worked on a minor trail braking issue and continued to circulate in the rain. The improvement in his driving style from his first session was monumental. He quit fighting with the car and started "dancing" it around the track. He got much smoother and was letting the car use the whole track. It was gratifying to see the improvement as I can feel as I did my job. His friends decided to leave early so he skipped his third session and headed home. I wanted to get him some solo time, but was unable.

Ava and I packed up our stuff and loaded out the van & trailer and were on the road about 1530 going south. And the rain followed us the whole way down to Southern Maryland, where they have not had rain since who-knows-when. Remember that "on-track auto fluids and rain water" I mentioned? Add to it "on-street auto fluids and rain water". The van/trailer brakes worked well out on the interstate and during all the rains. But when I got to Southern Maryland and its roads & sprinkles, I found the mother of all slippery roads. I hit one patch of oil/fluids coming up to a light. My tires both locked up at the slightest touch of the brake pedal, and that caused me to slide the tires. Scared the &*^* out of me! And Ava. I was doing about 30 mph when I locked up all 6 tires and slid right thru an intersection. A lesson learned. We carried on and got to her house at midnight. I got up the next morning and finished the drive back into Virginia Beach where I unloaded the car and gear. The trailer will go in for inspection at Portsmouth trailer so to be ready for the VIR trip in August.

The work on the car will consist of 1) finding some negative camber for the front tires, 2) changing the brake master cylinder to a 15/16" bore unit, and 3) doing some wiring upgrade work to the fan and charging system. I'm going to install a cage but might not have it done by VIR. We'll see.

All in all, a good trip. I'm happy with the money spent on the upgrade to the brakes/wheels/tires and expect to see more on-track improvement with the improved camber at VIR.