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NASA Weekend at Chuckwalla Valley Raceway

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  • NASA Weekend at Chuckwalla Valley Raceway

    My NASA – Chuckwalla Valley Raceway ( track weekend started Saturday morning with the clock radio softly playing some music at 4:00am. One quick look outside to see if the sky had cleared as forecasted, and the stars were shining brightly. Got dressed in sweats, ate a bowl of cereal and was ready to hit the road by 5:00. The streets were still wet from the overnight rain, some low-hanging patches of fog were about, and it was chilly; or was that very chilly! I’d put the hood up on the Seven, and wore an extra jacket over my sweatshirt and still wasn’t exactly warm while we motored through the morning darkness. Finally somewhere past Beaumont and the badlands curves, the sky started to lighten and the wind farms came into view near Palm Springs. I guess it’s been awhile since I’ve driven to Palm Springs, but those wind farms have grown immensely! A little past Indio, I reached Chiriaco Summit where I stopped to fill my tank. From there it was slightly over twenty miles to Chuckwalla. The approach to the track is totally inconspicuous. There was a water tank next to the highway with a sign painted on its side pointing to the raceway entrance. There were no visual clues whatsoever what lay beyond. I was well down the windy road toward the paddock before a few clues started to appear. Into the paddock, it finally felt like a race track; motorhomes with cars up on jackstands and that sort of stuff.

    I’d signed up for HPDE-3 (limited passing), but found out during our morning meeting that HPDE-3 and -4 were being combined (HPDE-1 and -2 were combined as well). There was a limited entry for this event, so combining groups made sense, and the result was we all got lots of track time and passing or being passed was never a problem. On Saturday morning, we had three twenty minute sessions and two more in the afternoon. I had to cut my last session short to have enough gas for the trip back to Chiriaco Summit to re-fuel. (They had gas available at the track, but not cheap gas! - okay, stop laughing now) The track designer for Chuckwalla was also the man who designed Miller Motorsports Park in Utah, and the two tracks share a lot in common. It also happened that he was at Chuckwalla this past weekend and joined our HPDE group on Saturday. That made for some very interesting and informative download sessions after our track sessions. The 2.7 mile track doesn’t have any long straights, but makes up for it with lots (17) of corners. Although some of them might look similar on a map, every corner has a personality. I drove all three morning sessions without ever feeling confident enough to push it. By the fourth session though, it felt good enough to start playing and having some fun! By the fifth session, I was trying different techniques to rotate my car where I wanted it to and was able to get on the throttle in most turns before the corner apexes. Turns 1 & 2 required only a tap on the brakes after the front straight, and turn 3 is your basic right angle late apex corner. Turns 4 & 5 are an interesting set that can be taken as a big double apex sweeper. I found that once into the early apex, I could hold my steering still and completely adjust my line using only the throttle. Turns 6 & 7 are devilishly difficult to get right, as the combination is really a decreasing radius sweeper. Getting the car to rotate for turn 7 was critical to hitting the apex and getting max speed down the straight to turn 8. Turns 8, 9 and 10 are very similar to “Cotton Corners” at Buttonwillow. However, turn 9 has a nasty negative camber to it; unless your left wheels ride up on the curbing. Turn 10 is of course, a late apex corner leading onto the longest straight. Turns 11 & 12 are a fun combination, very intimidating at first, but a combination you can literally fly through! If there was a place on the track where I was fastest, this was it. I’d take a very late apex on turn 11 and then straight line through 12 towards the edge of the track. Turn 13 is their banked turn (The Bowl) and a turn I entered about آ½ way up with just a feathering of my throttle. About half-way around, I’d rotate the chassis to bring my car down a little and then go flat-out towards the edge of the track for the exit. Turns 14, 15 and 16 all had one thing in common, and that was lack of visual markers. These took me the longest to learn, but they eventually started working. The biggest trick in this section is getting the chassis to rotate in 16 and get a good line through 17 to the edge of the straight at maximum speed. Now that I’m back at my desk, it gives me a rush just recounting all that!!

    Almost everyone who has driven the track counter-clockwise says that direction has much better flow than the clockwise direction we drove. I’ll have to wait and see. I can vouch that Buttonwillow has a different personality clockwise vs. counter-clockwise.

    On Sunday, I only drove the first three sessions before leaving for home. However it was interesting that I used as much gas in my three Sunday sessions as I did in all five on Saturday! Must have been using more full-throttle; or as a Michael Murphey says, more right foot. My fastest laps on Sunday were two to three seconds faster than on Saturday. Also, I was braking later and pitching the car more to scrub off speed. All good clean fun!

    On the downside, Chuckwalla Valley Raceway has little to offer in the sense of amenities. Like I said, the nearest street gas was 20+ miles away at Chiriaco Summit, and the nearest lodging was in Indio, almost 50 miles away. It kind of reminds me of Willow Springs 40+ years ago when I first started racing my BMW in B/Sedan. It’s only going to get better as development continues. Chuckwalla, like Spring Mountain Park near Pahrump, Nevada was intended as a motorsports country club. There’s an airstrip, and plans for a clubhouse and other amenities. All it takes is money to make it happen. In the meantime, there’s a great track out there to enjoy! I’ll be back.
    Last edited by Clark; February 13, 2013, 07:40 AM.