The Sledgehammer – Version 2.0

September 24, 2009

Just Another Day at the Races

Filed under: Wanderings — Brian Lutz @ 12:26 am

Up here in the Seattle area, auto racing is something of a rarity, especially at the professional level.  That’s not to say that it’s completely nonexistent, but most of the major racing series in the US don’t come anywhere near here.  The biggest annual motorsports related event in the Seattle area is, of course, the hydro races at Seafair, but I don’t see a whole lot of interest in hydro racing during the 51 weeks of the year when Seafair isn’t happening.  Aside from that, the NHRA usually makes it up to Pacific Raceways in Kent for an annual drag racing event, the Monster Jam usually shows up at the Tacoma Dome once a year or so, and… well, that’s about it.  To be honest, I find it difficult to get all that excited about either of those though.  Sure you can get a drag racer up to more than 300 miles per hour in a quarter mile, but the inherent “five seconds of action followed by three minutes of waiting around” pace of the stuff makes even baseball look fast paced in comparison.  Monster truck “races” (if you could call them that, most of it seems to be there mostly to give Grave Digger something to “win” for the benefit of that truck’s fans, and some of the other events that comprise a Monster Jam show are about as convincing as a WWE  match.)  The Tacoma Dome is a pretty lousy place for that type of event anyway, so it’s been years since I’ve been to one (even the not-so-dearly departed Kingdome was a much better place for a monster truck show.)  A few years ago, there was an ill-fated attempt at building a NASCAR track somewhere on the west side of Puget Sound, but it was made pretty clear at the time that the state government wanted nothing to do with such a thing.

To make a long story short, if you want to go see professional racing, chances are you’re going to have to go somewhere.  This past weekend, “Somewhere” turned out to be Miller Motorsports Park, located near Tooele, Utah.  With the Oquirrh mountains providing a dramatic backdrop, the twisty 4.5 mile track has already become a favorite destination for a number of racing series, the most notable being the American Le Mans Series and the AMA Superbikes.  Last weekend, it was the Rolex Sports Car Series that was paying a visit to Miller, along with a number of support series, and I was there, along with my Dad and my two brothers.  After the jump, some of the highlights from the trip.

For those unfamiliar with the series, these are the cars which compete at the 24 Hours of Daytona, as well as a number of other races around the country at different tracks.  The race at Miller was the second to last race of the season, and coming into this race, the first three cars in the standings were separated by just five points (seven after this race.)    

The Daytona Prototype cars which are found at the front of the pack bear some similarities to the Le Mans Prototype cars that race in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the ALMS and the Le Mans Series in Europe.  In fact some teams used to run modified LMP cars in this series, but the Daytona Prototype cars have since evolved into a less powerful and more economically designed car, partially to make racing them more economical for the teams that run them in the races (although in auto racing, “economical” is a relative term) but mostly to make them safer to drive at Daytona.  Although these cars look similar to each other in a lot of ways, there are a variety of chassis and engine combinations used in the cars.  The engines in these cars still put out 500 horsepower, and on the long straights (such as the 3,000 foot front straight at Miller) these cars can push 195 miles per hour. 

Sharing the track with the Daytona Prototypes is the GT class, which consists of modified production cars (current entries consist primarily of Porsche 911 GT3s, Mazda RX-8s and Pontiac GXP-Rs, with a couple of other makes making occasional appearances.  These cars have about 450 horsepower under the hood, and can manage about 180 MPH.  Race lengths are measures in time and maximum distance, and vary from 2 hours or 200 miles all the way up to the famous Daytona 24 hour race.  Most races (including this one) last 2 hours and 45 minutes or 250 miles (whichever comes first, although in this case the final lap of the race put them just barely over the 250 mile mark.)

Given the size of the course at MMP, it can occasionally be hard to keep up with the action on the far portions of the track, especially with the large number of infield turns (it’s interesting to note that the most recent ALMS race at this track was run on the perimeter course which eliminates much of the infield portion of the course in favor of a faster overall speed of the race.)  Our seats for the day’s events were located at the end of the long front straightaway, which allowed us to see the cars at the fastest speeds they would reach on the track, but with most of the interesting turns on the other side of the racecourse, we also ended up moving around a bit toward the end of the race.

Eventually we moved out to the area near the Attitudes, a series of three corners (known as First Attitude, Second Attitude and Bad Attitude) near the end of the track which contain the only elevation changes on what would otherwise be an almost completely flat track.  This spot allowed some really close views of the cars. 

This leads to a relatively short straightaway that provides some nice action to watch.  There’s a small viewing area on the front straight near the pits where you can get to within about 10-15 yards of the track, but we didn’t make it to that area this time around. 

In fact, we ended up not spending a lot of time in the paddock area at this race at all, and ended up skipping the pre-race pit walk  That’s not to say we didn’t make it there, but there just wasn’t a whole lot to see here, especially since the major support race (the Koni Challenge) was held the previous day, and most of the teams for that had already packed up and moved out by the time we got there.

That’s not to say there weren’t some interesting things to see though.  The fake headlights with little holes for the real ones are a nice touch.

We even got a chance to put on helmets and hit the track for a bit of racing of our own.

Unfortunately, this wasn’t it (although I do have to give the guy credit for having a cool last name…)

This was more like it.  Miller Motorsports Park actually has a rather nice go-kart track on premises, and even though I had been there a couple of times before this weekend, this was the first chance I got to take the karts out for a spin.  The price was surprisingly reasonable (cheaper than the local karting place here in Redmond with a much shorter track even) and even though they didn’t have timing and scoring on when we ran it, it was still a fun track, and I’ll have to be sure to go again next time I’m here.

I have quite a few more photos from the race in various states of blurriness, but unsurprisingly, I found that it’s a lot trickier than it looks to take photos of cars flying down a track at 180 miles per hour (most of the best photos of the cars on the track that  I managed to get were actually taken during the full-course cautions.)  This last photo obviously has nothing to do with racing, but I thought it came out really nice, so I included it here.

Even though the trip down to Utah was fairly short, we actually managed to do quite a bit more than just go to the races.  There will be more on that in the next post, coming up soon.

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3 Comments »

  1. Hey, great blog…but I don’t understand how to add your site in my rss reader. Can you Help me, please :)

    Comment by DennisVega — September 30, 2009 @ 10:25 am

  2. Man, that race trip sounds like a blast…beautiful countryside and racecars, I am envious…

    The only thing is those cars are not a part of the American Lemans Series, but a part of the Grand Am Series of racing. The Daytona Prototypes are sanctioned race cars according to the rule makers at NASCAR while the ALMS series cars are truly one off prototypes following the rules of the European Series of Lemans racing.

    But a minor technical note and it was a great blog and it looked like a great time.

    I have followed the Grand Am Series for many years here in Daytona Beach, Florida.

    I blogged, at least, a couple times about my experiences at the Rolex 24 at Daytona. Here are a couple links and I think you will enjoy them.

    Races, Brothers, and Nephews. Nothing better!!

    http://oleragtop.blogspot.com/2008/05/rolex-24-memories.html

    http://oleragtop.blogspot.com/2008/05/more-rolex-24-memories.html

    And this is my blog, should you care to check in.

    http://oleragtop.blogspot.com/

    Keep up the great blog.

    From an infrequent follower,

    longrooffan

    Comment by john — October 2, 2009 @ 4:55 pm

    • Oops, I actually know about the differences between the two types of cars (I’ve actually been to a couple of ALMS races at Miller as well, and one of these years I need to try to get out to the Sebring or Road Atlanta races) but I probably needed to make the distinction a bit more clearly. I’ve modified that paragraph slightly to emphasize the difference a bit more.

      Comment by Brian Lutz — October 3, 2009 @ 10:21 am


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