I just couldn’t resist another trip to Buttonwillow Raceway for some more track time with my friend in his Nissan GT-R. Only this time, it was more eventful than the last trip out. What could go wrong on Friday 13th.
Like the last time, we set off in our own cars, around 8pm on Friday, but failed to check the weather forecast in the Grapevine area, which is around 4000ft to 5000ft elevation. I lost my friend on the Interstate 5 so he was a few minutes ahead of me. When we hit the Grapevine area, snow came down hard and the wind battered my car from all directions. Traffic slowed down to 5 mph within 30 minutes and lane markings on the I-5 was non existent. Four lanes turned to two and eventually to one since every driver was naturally following the car in front and staying in the tracks it had made in the snow.
Whenever traffic stopped, it was hard for some drivers to get moving again. Was quite funny to see cars wheel spinning on the spot, including myself. I had to turn traction control off to try to get moving again, but that didn’t seem to have positive affect on anything.
Not long, my car stalled, and it wouldn’t start up again. My hazard lights were not working too so I was a sitting duck at this point in the middle of the motorway. Panic mode engaged! My friend called and said he got off the I-5 to a nearby motel. I got towed by the California Highway Patrol to the same motel in Lebec where the local temperature was -1 degrees Celsius. My car was revived on Saturday morning by a local mechanic who discovered that the alternator needed replacing. He didn’t have a spare, so I’ll have to get this sorted back home. I continued to Buttonwillow raceway.
A view from my motel room in Lebec.
Since it had been raining on the track on Friday, the surrounding areas of the track was like a mud pit. If you went off in those areas, there was no way out, and the damage must be pretty bad. You’d have to be towed out.
So many cars went off the track in every session not due to the track condition, but mainly from driver errors, so the session had to be stopped while cars were towed out, the loose mud swept off the track etc. This caused a lot of downtime for all drivers, so on Sunday, they warned all drivers that if anyone had to be towed, they would be disqualified from their next session.
That announcement helped a lot on Sunday. Drivers were definitely being more cautious to start with and you could tell from the slower lap times they were posting. I guess everyone had the feeling that if they got towed on their first lap, they would have to miss the rest of that session and the one after, meaning 50% of the day gone. The track condition was much better on Sunday, warmer, track had more grip and some of the muddy runny off areas were easier to get out of so cars that did go off, could at least get themselves back on the track.
The moment of the day occurred later on in the day. A teenager who looked like he’d just passed his driving test took my place and sat with my friend in the Nissan GT-R. He’d never been out on track before. Obviously he’s never experienced the level of G-forces throwing him all over the place, that he managed to throw up once the session was over. Fortunately he had the decency to open the door first.
The journey back home was less eventful than the journey out, but my car made it back home in one piece. So, I’ve learnt two valuable lessons this weekend.
1. Always check the weather forecast along the whole journey
2. Never allow teenagers to ride with you on track day unless they’ve done this before