Wednesday, September 24, 2014

09/14 Dragon Run: A Pass With Kamal

Kamal on his way to work (shooting pix for in a slayer he built himself: a Gen. 5 Honda Civic CX.  He
 has not goosed the horsepower considerably, but he put a lot of forged parts into the engine when he rebuilt it.  So
it lives happily near the rev limit with the throttle floored for pass-after-9-mile-pass.  Sticky rubber on the widest,
lightest, wheels that will fit.  Upgraded suspension.  Wide beam driving lights for night passes.  The car weighs
under 2600 lbs., curbside, with Kamal in it.  In short, an ideal Dragon slayer.

I'm not a carsick passenger.  Not as a little kid.  Not in 3 laps around Nelsons Ledges in a Porsche 550 Spyder.  Not in laps beside a driving instructor in my own RX-7.  Not in a dozen Dragon passes beside Hotshoe in our cars at 7 or 8/10's in the past few years.

But I was getting ready to toss my dinner (eaten 3 hours before) riding beside Kamal on a Dragon pass. He took me from the south end to Shade Tree Corner and back--a little more than halfway.  Before Parsons Branch, my stomach was in trouble.  Luckily, he slowed up at the beginning of the return run to wait for a buddy who had been chasing us.  Then he went at 8/10's again for the last half of the return pass.  My stomach began to protest again.  I kept my dinner down, but was dizzy when I got out of the car.

My problem wasn't the side loads.  It was the rapid pace in change of direction on the switchbacks.
You know those little hairs in your inner ear that maintain your sense of balance?  Mine couldn't keep up with the car.  A hard pass on the Dragon has to be experienced to be believed.  Video doesn't do it justice.  But here's one anyway, from a time when Kamal was running a less aggressive wheel/tire package: 

An 11-minute pass is "only" 20% faster than a 14-minute pass.  It's the pace through the bends and rate of direction change in a "built" slayer that's an order-of-magnitude above a normal, sporty, street car.

Kamal is very smooth.  Fast drivers always are.  The Dragon rewards smoothness even more than a road circuit does.  If you make a mistake in a corner, things get worse--quickly--in the next one, which is already right on top of you.  Kamal never left our lane.  It was a glorious ride, and I'd do it again. But I'd eat even earlier before the pass and make sure I wasn't already exhausted from a day's worth of my own passes.

Kamal's office: a proper steering wheel, shimmed for proper reach, a short-throw shifter, and metal pedal pads.

Kamal said "I take passengers at 8/10's--no harder.  For one thing, you're a passenger.  There's always the possibility of mechanical failure.  Or I could make a mistake.  It's best to keep a couple of 10ths in hand unless you're alone in the car.  Hard passes are why I'm OCD about maintenance, most of which I do myself, including frequent inspection of the undercarriage."

"No pictures, please!"  Kamal is camera-shy, but someone got him in his X2 natural habitat: on the Dragon, working on
a car.  His Civic has a trunkful of tools and he knows how to use them, up to and including engine rebuilds.

Before making (night-time) passes, some of us drove into Robbinsville for Mexican food (I stuck to iced tea).  The regulars who hang out at the Dragon are fast, competent, drivers, on four wheels or two.  I rode with Walter and wouldn't have dreamed of trying to keep up with them, even in a better car than my Mustang.  I don't know how this crew screens out the squids, but they do.  Maybe it's self-screening: the dinner run was very fast--not necessarily on the straights, but in the corners.  Three of the drivers were local, three from out-of-town.  The out-of-towners are on the Dragon frequently.  And it was in an interesting variety of cars:

Kamal's Civic

Killgurl's S-2000

Walter's S-2000 Club Racer Edition:  Walter runs four-season radials because he likes to slide a bit.  He also runs a completely stock car, on the theory that it's easier, more convenient, and more reliable to let Honda do the engineering for you.  Like me, Walter admires Honda beyond all reason.

Brian's BMW E-46 Coupe:  His daily driver is a stock E-46 sedan; he built  this car for track days.  Including a demon straight-6 with radical cams and special bearings, for which he claims over 400 h.p.  It's streetable, though.

Hayden's Mazda Miata: He just bought this car to turn it into a slayer.  His mods so far are a roll bar and lowered suspension.  Next (I'm guessing) wheels and tires.  Hayden's previous car was a Honda Fit that was as fast through the Dragon as some much more powerful cars--with him behind the wheel.

Hyundai Veloster 1.6 twin turbo: I didn't catch the name of this car's owner, but he had no trouble keeping up in an apparently stock car.

What this list establishes, I think, is that the nut behind the wheel is the key go-fast equipment for Dragon passes.  Or, as my club asks newbies at our Indoor Driving School, "If you had $500 to spend, would you put the money into the car or track time?"  The correct answer is quality learning time and experience behind the wheel.

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